Entertainment Television

EXCLUSIVE: Vanessa Williams on Daytime Divas

Daytime Divas star Vanessa Williams, left, promises plenty of action and intrigue on her new show. BRAVO

Daytime Divas star Vanessa Williams, left, promises plenty of action and intrigue on her new show. BRAVO

DENETTE WILFORD/ 24 HOURS

Vanessa Williams is no stranger to playing strong, elegant, successful women on television and her latest series is no different.

Though the title gives it away, Daytime Divas centres on a popular daytime talk show that features five very different, very opinionated women who can barely keep their manicured talons to themselves. Sound familiar? Probably, since the scripted series is based on the novel Satan's Sisters, written by executive producer Star Jones and inspired by her own experiences as a co-host on The View. When it comes to real life, the word "diva" is a label most women begrudgingly use when describing themselves, but when it's an actress playing one on TV, Williams has learned to embrace the label. At least, that's what Jones was hoping for when she was dream-casting the Barbara Walters-esque role of Maxine Robinson.

"Star particularly had me in mind when she was writing the role of Maxine," Williams told 24 Hours while in Toronto promoting the Bravo series. "She called me and told me she had 10 episodes guaranteed and said, 'Listen, you're my first choice,'and after I read her book, and then the script, I said, 'OK, I could do this [laughs].'" Of course she can.

She's Vanessa Freakin' Williams! The actress - who admits she's most recognized for playing Wilhelmina Slater in the popular series Ugly Betty and Ruby in the 1998 film Dance With Me - revealed that Jones likened the character of Maxine to Dominique Deveraux from Dynasty (pretty big stilettos to fill, even for the likes of Williams).

"Diahann Carroll was the epitome of grace and style and strength, but also she could throw out a line and slice you to bits with it," laughed Williams. "I worked with her [in the 2000 TV movie The Courage to Life] and would love to be compared to her elegance and style."

As for Daytime Divas, it's similar in tone to Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, something Williams relishes.

"It's nice to be able to play humour and heart and high drama," she explained. "You don't want to play one-note or one-dimensional because that's boring. You want to allow the audience to see you as a true character."

But if you're looking for Williams and her Daytime Divas co-stars to be anything like Maxine and her backstabby co-hosts on the fictional The Lunch Hour, prepare to be disappointed.

"It's certainly not high drama, although I did slam the door on [co-star] Chloe [Bridges]'s fingers by accident with my foot when I had a lunch tray in my hand," revealed Williams. "I ended up sending her flowers, oh my God. But that was the biggest drama I've had to deal with."

As for what's to come onscreen, the LGBTQ rights activist is most looking forward to the series'"amazing" 7th episode (airing July 17). Featuring best-selling author and transgender rights activist Janet Mock, she will appear as a guest co-host and help Heather (Fiona Gubelmann) with her family issues.

"She's an unbelievable journalist with an incredible story and she does a beautiful job not only playing herself but also dealing with Heather's questions and her protection of her daughter Ella, and sticking up for her in front of the world and her husband," who only sees the child as their son, Brad Jr. Heavy stuff, unlike anything we've seen on cable or network TV.

Williams, last in Toronto 16 years ago filming the TV movie Keep the Faith, will be back in the area on Aug. 18 with a gig at Fallsview Casino. For now, though, the busy star will be keeping her visits to Canada brief and infrequent. Any free time she has goes to her four kids (three daughters in New York and her son in L.A.); her mom, who lives next door to her, and binging NatGeo series Genius and anything on HGTV.

"A lot of their shows are Canadian so I feel like I know all about the renovations, the housing market, what neighbourhoods are good. I love it." Guess that'll have to do.

Daytime Divas airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Bravo.