David Zheng

At a Silliman College Tea on Tuesday, actress, comedian and singer Allison Williams ’10 discussed the trajectory of her life — from growing up with parents who worked in the media business, to her studies at Yale, to her current acting career.

Though best known for her role as Marnie Michaels on the HBO comedy-drama series “Girls,” Williams received critical acclaim for her performance in the 2017 horror film “Get Out,” which was nominated for four Academy Awards. The talk drew roughly 100 students, with many attendees having to sit on the floor or in an adjacent room livestreaming the talk.

Williams said that although she had known from a very young age that she wanted to be an actress, her parents insisted that she graduate from college before embarking on her acting career. She added that being around public personalities since childhood helped her understand  that “to aspire for fame … is an empty pursuit. It’s where people’s energies are focused at one given time — it’s fleeting and ethereal.” She said that this experience helped her ignore that part of her career “and focus on the work itself.”

Williams recalled auditioning for the Dramat Fall Mainstage musical upon arriving at Yale, and being turned down for a part. Instead, she joined the musical improvisation group Just Add Water, which gave her lifelong friends and “changed [her] life forever.” Her background in improv later proved useful in her professional career, when she sometimes improvised scenes with her castmates to improve the scripts.

“The biggest gift that improv gave me was not freaking out when something goes wrong,” Williams said. “You start to see those things as gifts, because it almost always inevitably leads to a weirder, more fun place. There’s no such thing as something going wrong, cause you’re all making it up at all times — which we all are anyway. It gave me the freedom of being in the moment.”

Williams said that she appreciated her choice to pursue an English major at the University and was grateful for Yale’s liberal arts education. She said that knowledge from college classes will “surface at the weirdest times for the rest of your life.”

Upon graduation, Williams “felt a lot of internal pressure” to finally do acting. She shot a series of three original singing videos, uploaded them to YouTube and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She added that it was important not to wait for others to offer opportunities but instead take charge of one’s own artistic career.

“If it’s not coming for you, just go for it — make it yourself,” she said.

After the success of “Girls,” Williams said she had felt “frustrat[ed]” that people could only see her playing roles similar to her character Marnie. She then followed her “instinct” to “produce [her] own stuff,” and eventually received an invitation to star in “Get Out.”

William said that the script of “Get Out” “tapped into everything [she] had been raised to think about,” such as her “luck and circumstance of birth” that her parents educated her to understand. She added that current political issues and race relations in the US created “a sense of urgency” for the release and promotion of the film.

Williams said that she has enjoyed “leap[ing] out of her sandbox” in the shooting of two new films, including an action movie, and hopes to continue challenging her ability to portray different roles throughout her career. She is also continuing to work on her own projects, which she “can’t talk about yet” but is very excited about.

Attendees told the News that they enjoyed the event.

Radeesha Jayewickreme ’22 said that she liked Williams’ comments on learning to overcome perfectionism and embrace uncertainty through improv, and how “those same principles still apply in the real world.”

Archer Frodyma ’22, who said she is potentially interested in a career in the arts, said that she benefitted from Williams’ comments on “not waiting for others’ permission” to begin producing one’s own work as an artist.

Julia Hu ’22 said that she appreciated how college teas offer an “intimate way to get to know someone that has been in your shoes” and thought Williams’ talk was “a source of inspiration and hope.”

Williams’ latest film “The Perfection” will debut on Netflix on May 24.

Carrie Zhou | pinyi.zhou@yale.edu