Jessica Williams is a six-foot-tall, chocolate-complexioned beauty bearing a nose ring and rocking natural hair. And she’s funny as all get out.
She sets the stage as the face of the new rom-com in Jim Strouse’s critically-heralded new film, "The Incredible Jessica James,” currently streaming on Netflix.
As James, Williams portrays a quirky, complicated and overly imaginative Brooklyn millennial with high hopes and big dreams of conquering Broadway as an award-winning playwright. She also has a fair share of dating angst after a recent breakup with her bohemian boyfriend played by LaKeith Stanfield from “Get Out” and “Atlanta” fame.
The character is sort of a hybrid of Issa Dee from "Insecure" and Hannah Horvath from "Girls" — but with a more courageous temperament when it comes to matters of the heart and certainly more dramatic flair. (She’s a theater nerd, after all).
The trials and tribulations of Jessica James aren’t autobiographical, although convincingly portrayed by Williams, who while admitting she can see some parallels, assured that she’s not playing herself.
“We're both determined and we're both really excited about our careers but I think the way we're different is that she's very forthright, she's not a fan of conflict,” Williams told NBC News. “For example, there's a scene where she's on a Tinder date in the beginning of the movie, and it's obviously not going well and she has a different idea in mind about the date so she's telling the guy upfront, ‘Look, dude, I'm not into you at all. Not going to happen,’ whatever, whereas, I think if it was me, I would just sit through the date and bite into my piece of broccoli and then go home later and text my friends about it.”
The Los Angeles native and esteemed member of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater previously appeared in Strouse’s 2015 indie film "People Places Things." According to Williams, "Jessica James" was born out of necessity — and a hunch.
“[Jim] said something really nice, he was like, ‘I cannot wait until somebody writes you a movie,’ and then he said, ‘Wait a minute, I can write you a movie.’ And so, he sort of pitched the idea to me and then we met a couple of times and then he wrote this very beautiful script in a month and a half."
Shot at various locations throughout Brooklyn, the film also stars Noel Wells of “Master of None” and Chris O’Dowd from “Bridesmaids,” who portrays James’ unexpected love interest.
Unlike many other female-centric projects about the dating misadventures of its lead character, “Incredible Jessica James” takes on interracial dating in a way like never before — as if it’s not even a thing.
“I think it's progressive to actually have people that are minorities and members of the LGBT community be able to exist and not necessarily call attention to race, gender or orientation,” she said of the colorblind storyline. “I was really excited to be Jessica James because in this particular movie, there is an interracial relationship, but the movie isn't about being in an interracial relationship.”
Williams isn’t just the star of the 83-minute flick but also an executive producer, which afforded her the opportunity to have input in the creative process.
“There were a lot of things in there that I got to improvise. And since I come from a sketch and improv background, I really felt comfortable on set,” said Williams. “And a lot of the other actors are great at sketch and improv. So, a lot of that stuff really just made it into the film, which I think sort of contributes to the feeling of it just feeling like you're watching something pretty authentic.”
Being exposed early to working in showbiz and then honing her skills with the no-holds-barred political comedy stylings of "The Daily Show," the Brooklyn transplant has proven adept at woke commentary on racism, sexism and homophobia.
“There's always room to be smarter, and know more about the world, and know more about others, and [be] respectful of other people while honoring yourself, which I think has a lot to do with wokeness,” she said. “I think for me, at least, it's not a destination it's like a journey with myself. And I think I try to be as aware and as woke as possible, and I hope that I'm doing a good job. I really do — with my work.”
Starring in "The Incredible Jessica James" couldn’t come at a better time considering that there are so many strong Black female characters permeating the television and film worlds, from the raucous summer blockbuster "Girls Trip" to top TV dramas like "Empire," "Being Mary Jane" and "Scandal."
“I know so many women in my life that are women of color, and they are complex, and they are funny, and sad, and brave they're all these things at once,” she said. “So, I'm really excited to be a part of this time in film and television where these women get to be portrayed on screen.
Being part of this renaissance isn’t lost on Williams, who called the role a dream come true.
"It really feels like progress, and it sort of feels like the future, and I just can't wait to see where this is going to go.”