‘9-1-1’ Star Vanessa Williams Talks Getting in Character

by Kati Michelle
(Photo by Robin L Marshall/Getty Images)

Fox dispatched Vanessa Estelle Williams to join “9-1-1” during its fifth season. The creators brought her on during Jennifer Love Hewitt’s temporary hiatus to take the helm of the call center. The network offered Williams the recurring role of Claudette Collins, a confident and blunt powerhouse. And although her character exudes a master-level knowledge of the field, Williams says she actually struggled a bit with getting into character at the beginning.

Playing a call center veteran meant having to do a little research. Research might not be something you expect from actors and actresses, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to make a role more authentic. Especially when that role has its own vernacular. And Vanessa Williams knew exactly who to turn to for help: her family.

The ‘9-1-1’ Star Opens Up About Dispatcher Dialogue

According to Williams, her sister-in-law proved to be an invaluable source when it came to getting her Claudette Collins character right. That’s because her sister-in-law actually worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher in New York on that ominous 9/11 day in 2001. After getting some advice, Williams says she jumped right into her character in a sort of “trial by fire.”

“I got thrown into the mix. And it’s all this very, very specific dispatch dialogue that’s not regular speak,” she said in an interview. “This is how dispatchers and police people speak to each other and … it was crazy, crazy, crazy. And not only was it a new sort of language but [Claudette Collins] was also supposed to be the expert, so much so that she [doesn’t] wear a uniform. She got all this clout. So I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ But it’s like being thrown into the fire is a great challenge.”

Gushing About Her Co-workers and Remembering Sidney Poitier

Aside from Fox’s “9-1-1,” Vanessa Williams is also known for a handful of other works like “Soul Food.” She only had positive things to say about the project in a past interview:

“I was a little girl watching ‘Sounder’ and watching her move and then learning her great, great life in the theater. And it was Diahann Carroll. When she came to the ‘Soul Food’ set, we were literally in her dressing room, sitting at her knee, getting all these stories about what it was like working with Sidney Poitier, what it was like being on those sets with [theatre and film director] Otto Preminger and just working your way through the Hollywood experience at a time where our beauty wasn’t accepted.”

Sidney Poitier tragically passed away on January 6th.

Vanessa Williams posted this tribute to the late icon following the news.