How Zelda Williams Is Building a Career Out of Her Father’s Shadow

Zelda, the only daughter of the late actor Robin Williams, opened up to E! News about making her own path in Hollywood and the struggles she went through as a kid.

“I was just a difficult kid,” she says. “It’s not even the sense that it was contingent on me being a woman, I just didn’t fit in. I guess even more than that, I didn’t inhabit what a lot of people expected of me as a woman—for example, I had a shaved head for a time.”

She added, “A lot of actor’s kids are really beautiful models and I wasn’t that. I was really awkward and short and had this low voice. I didn’t fit what they expected of me as a child of an actor.”

The 28-year-old writer is on hand at the Microsoft Corporate Headquarters to join almost 1,000 women at the Create & Cultivate conference, which was sponsored by Microsoft, The Mine, Sorel and Express, in a day devoted to building the job of their dreams. It’s an event that has grown big over the last few years to bring together major players in the industry to share their knowledge.

Williams just finished her appearance on a panel dedicated to what the conference called as the “radical creative,” where she spoke about her recent venture into the world of horror film and shared stories about her own career that had the crowd laughing and nodding knowingly – like when she tried to become an actress despite the fact that she “looks 17 and sounds 40” or that she’s learned “no doesn’t always mean no when it comes to creativity.”

She explained that she doesn’t feel bitter about growing up with those expectations and points out that no one has an easy go of it during their teenage years and now she’s amazed by how much she has changed since then.

“It is so interesting,” she said. “I love wearing heels now, I love wearing dresses and my favorite thing in the world is a tailored two-piece suit. If I told 16-year-old me this she would have crapped her pants.”

Williams confessed that she didn’t like being put through constant comparison with her famous father.

“I think everyone thinks that when kids want to become actors they are trying to usurp their parents,” she said. “I can’t speak for most of them, but in my case that was never going to happen. I had no interest in comedy. Also, if your dad was the first person on the moon, you don’t go, ‘I am going to be the first person on the moon a second time.’ What would be the point?”

Today, Williams has turned to her true passion which is writing and directing movies particularly horror and psychological thrillers. She spoke fervently about her love for disturbing audiences with new ideas, and also thanked one of her mentors for helping her realize that it’s what she was meant to do.  For many years she had been convincing herself that she wasn’t getting acting projects because she wasn’t talented or attractive enough, but he pointed out that the industry merely hadn’t caught up to an idea of women that actually fit reality.

“He said, no one is going to write you or women like you, so you have to,” Williams said. “That was when I finally took all my scripts—I had written about 15 at that point—to an agency and they signed me and that was that.”

Getting signed is just the beginning of her new career. Williams realized that she would have to start reaching out to successful directors for advice.

“What I want to do there aren’t women directing,” she explains. “So there are no programs for women to take other women under their wing. I had to go to men and be like, hey, you’re in a privileged position. Will you help me out? And thankfully none of them have said no.”

One opportunity happened at a film festival when her idol Guillermo Del Toro was sitting right behind her, and that it was most definitely a sign. But it still took huge guts to make that first move.

“I had never shown anyone my scripts before,” she explained. “It was after Dad died, and I think my mom was the only one to have read my work. I kind of turned around, and I never fan girl—because I have seen it around my dad and don’t want to be like that, even though my dad was always so good about it—but I just said your movies meant a tremendous amount to me and I want to be a director.”

Much to her excitement, Del Toro told her to get his email from his assistant and send him some of her scripts that very same night. She decided on a movie about dominatrices, of all things and he promptly wrote back explaining that she was entirely nuts. And he added that he loved the script and to send him anything else she ever wanted him to read.

“I know this comes from a privileged place of knowing that I will do something else if this doesn’t work out, but I don’t really have any fear,” she says. “Maybe it won’t work out for me, but why would anyone sit there and dwell on that? I like making emergency plans for earthquakes, not my life. There is no bag I can pack, that if directing doesn’t work out, will make that better. So I might as well give it absolutely everything.”

Williams is not just happy to be sharing her hard-earned wisdom to all the women in the conference but she also came to get inspired.

“It is such a rare occasion when you are surrounded by incredibly successful, incredibly creative and independent women,” she said. “It shouldn’t be. But I’ve spoken at different conferences and gone to Comic Con, where you’re around people with similar interests, but this is far and away the most surreal thing I have ever done.”