Over the course of 13 episodes in 1993-1994, Cress Williams added drama, humor, athleticism and, perhaps most importantly, color to Beverly Hills 90210. As D’Shawn Hardell, we saw Williams challenge Brandon (Jason Priestley), woo Donna (Tori Spelling) and show off some pretty smooth skills on the basketball court. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Williams appear on one of my favorite non-teen drama shows, Prison Break.
Williams was kind enough to discuss both with me:
TeenDramaWhore: When you joined Beverly Hills 90210 way back in October 1993, were you familiar with the show?
Cress Williams: I knew the show existed, but I had never seen the show. After I got the job I watched an episode. I was in the middle of finishing college, so I didn’t watch a lot of TV.
TDW: Your last appearance was just over a year later. Did you keep up with the show after you left?
Williams: Other than watching it that one time to get a sense of it, I never really watched it again. After I finished on the show, I was done with school and fully involved in life and career.
TDW: On the surface, D’Shawn was just a basketball player who hassled Brandon. In reality, you brought some much-needed diversity to the show. Did that cross your mind at all?
Williams: Most definitely. I knew there wasn’t really any people of color on the show. In fact, when I met the assistant casting director at a little seminar before ever auditioning for the show, I pretty much blew it off because I didn’t think I had much of a chance of being on a show like that.
TDW: Are you actually skilled at basketball or was it the “magic of television”?
Williams: Basketball was and is my favorite sport. When I was younger I played a lot. So at the time of doing the show, I was in good shape and played it a lot. All the basketball stuff was me, not movie magic.
TDW: Do you have a favorite memory or episode?
Williams: 90210 was my first professional job, so all of it was a new experience for me. Mainly I just remember being a trained actor and knowing about acting, but not knowing about acting on television. Everyday was a learning experience.
TDW: Are you still in touch with the cast?
Williams: Not really.
TDW: Last year, you were on another one of my favorite shows, Prison Break. What was it like joining a series that you know is in its last season?
Williams: Like 90210, I have done a lot of work on shows that had been in production for a while. I know how to step in and fit in on the fly. I really enjoyed playing a character so different from me and what I have played in the past.
TDW: Did you have to catch up on the complicated back story and conspiracy?
Williams: Not really. My character was a hired gun who was simply called in to clean up. A lot of the crew were big fans of the show, so they helped to give me any back story I needed.
TDW: You played a hit man, who ironically had his own unexpected death. How do you approach a character like that?
Williams: Well, I saw the character as a man who didn’t really do what he did because he enjoyed it. I saw him as someone who killed because it was simply a part of who he is. He took no pleasure in it, and he never took it personal. It was all business. He was so good at what he did because he had a distance from what he was doing. I felt like if he could, he would love to be normal, but he couldn’t change who he was. So I tried to keep what I did acting-wise very simple.
TDW: What projects are you working on now?
Williams: Recently I just finished an episode of Cold Case, which [aired] in October. I am currently working on writing a future TV series of my own with a couple of friends. I hope it makes it to the small screen someday.