Anyone who’s been a fan of Jessica Williams during her four years on “The Daily Show” as a political correspondent, or perhaps one in the snowy crowd who was galvanized by her powerful speech at the Women’s March on Main Street, will not be surprised that her first go as leading lady in a feature film is bang on.
In “The Incredible Jessica James,” the closing-night film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which was acquired by Netflix on Monday, Williams inhabits the title character easily and skillfully in part because the role was written for her by director Jim Strouse, who first met Williams when she played a supporting character in his film “People Places Things.”
“He’s a very soft-spoken, thoughtful white guy, so when he came to me and said, ‘I’d love to write something for you’ I was like, ‘Amazing.’ And he was really into making sure my voice was captured in the movie,” Williams said. As executive producer, Williams had plenty of creative input with the storyline and dialog, which follows a New York playwright and drama teacher from a bad breakup to a new romance.
“It’s less autobiographical and more like, ‘Here are some truths,’” she says of the universal emotions the characters experience. She’s also honest about her fear of stepping out of her “Daily Show” comfort zone into movie star territory. “I was terrified for the first three days, and I also worried I wouldn’t be able to get up every morning and make it to the set,” she said.
The Los Angeles native and Brooklyn resident, 27, is also at work on her first scripted series for Comedy Central, and she relishes being a multihyphenate. “Right now I’m into acting and I really love podcasting (she and her writing partner Phoebe Robinson host the popular “2 Dope Queens”), but I prefer no labels. I think that’s a very Millennial mind-set, but everyone is free to create the art that you want to create.”
An alum of the improve troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, she calls Amy Poehler “my she-ro” and has at least one Poehler goal: “Phoebe Robinson and I want to host the Golden Globes. It would be so dope.”