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Into the spotlight

Virginia Williams has never had one of those hyphenated careers.
That is, actress-waitress or actress-personal assistant or, well, add just about anything following actress, and you get the disjointed career path many must face in pursuing their dream of making it in Hollywood.
“That first year out of school,” Williams said, “there was a moment when I did think, ‘What am I doing?’ Everybody was a waiter, and I didn’t want to be a waiter. I got really blessed. I booked a show, and I’ve never stopped working since.”
In fact, the granddaughter of former Erwin residents A.L. “Bo” and Virginia Garland Brummett, both now deceased, is bathed in Hollywood’s spotlight these days – from appearing on the red carpet at the People’s Choice Awards for her nominated film “Revenge of the Bridesmaids” to talking up her new series “Fairly Legal,” which made its debut on the USA Network last week.
In “Fairly Legal,” Williams stars as Lauren Reed, a young, recently widowed stepmother struggling to keep the Reed and Reed Law Firm afloat now that she is in charge. Her life is made more complicated by her relationship with Kate, her same-aged step-daughter, played by Sarah Shahi, who is also an attorney at the firm.
“My character sees things in black and white,” Williams said, “and Sarah’s sees things in gray.”
Williams grew up in Memphis, but she’s proud of her ties to East Tennessee – even though she’s never visited Erwin.
“I feel like I know something about Erwin,” she said in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles-area home. “I have a lot of actual photos in my home from when my family lived there.”
Williams’ grandfather was a star football player in Erwin in the 1930s and went on to play at Milligan College and return to Unicoi County High School as the head coach from 1948-1954, where he amassed a winning record of 42-25-7. He and his wife had two daughters, who grew up in Erwin, Virginia’s mother, Vicki, and her aunt, Beauanne.
In 1954, Brummett moved the family from Erwin to Newport to accept another coaching position. Even after decades removed from life in Erwin, Vicki and Beauanne remain close with friends in Unicoi County.
“My grandmother, Virginia, who I was named after and we called ‘Ginny Momma’ always loved Erwin and enjoyed so much going back there to visit or to attend festivals, so Erwin still means a lot to my family,” said the actress who relatives call “Ginger.”
Before landing a starring role in “Fairly Legal,” Williams has found continued success as an actress. She had a memorable arc on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and has guest starred on “The Mentalist,” “Lie to Me” and “Two and a Half Men.”
Growing up, Williams thought she’d pursue a career as a singer. During her senior year in high school, though, she landed a recurring role on the popular daytime soap opera “One Life to Live,” and commuted between New York City for filming and Memphis for classes at Hutchison, a prestigious all-girls school.
“My first love was singing and music,” she said. “I performed in musicals and sang and that just led to me doing musical theater, and I found that I really loved acting.”
Following graduation from Hutchison, Williams opted not to pursue work as an actress but, rather, she “chose to study” acting.
She enrolled, graduated and honed her craft at New York’s Fordham University and sharpened her Shakespeare in England at the British American Drama Academy at Oxford.
“I really wanted the training,” she said. “I certainly was tempted to take the success of working on the soap and go full force and be in the field, but I really wanted to get my training and have every tool available to me. I was well equipped and prepared for myriad of parts.”
That versatility has paid off, it seems. She starred in the Lifetime original series “Monarch Cove” before landing “Fairly Legal.”
“I would love to do Broadway and be in the musical theater world,” Williams said, “but with all my training … I just took a turn and the work I was offered was more and more parts in the film and television route. That’s why I came to Los Angeles, but I’d love to live in New York City again one day.”
But, for now, Williams is hopeful “Fairly Legal,” which was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, will earn a second season. The USA Network, which has earned a reputation in recent years for popular original programming such as “Monk,” “Psych,” “In Plain Sight”and “Burn Notice,” has ordered 10 episodes to complete season one.
Williams describes “Fairly Legal” as a dramady – a drama with a distinct comedic edge. “It’s fun and different,” she said, “and I think there’s something there for everybody.”
If viewers are half as enthusiastic as Williams is about her character, she may have a hit on her hands.
“She’s a very layered and interesting character,” she said. “I love playing her. She is smart, immensely capable, but she’s always trying to prove herself.
“I’m really very excited about the show, and I’m really proud of the show and being able to play such an interesting character, I don’t think this particular character has been seen on television before. Normally, the part I’m playing would be seen as the antagonist trophy wife, but Lauren is smart and capable. She’s an underdog in a man’s world.”
Viewers, Williams said, will hopefully like what they see. The show airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. While the show debuted last week, those who missed the first episode can catch it again Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 11 p.m. or Thursday, Jan. 27, at 11:30 a.m. The second episode of “Fairly Legal” will air Jan. 27, at 10 p.m.
“It’s a great show and a great part,” Williams said, “and I hope the show does really well, and it’s wonderful to have connections back home in Tennessee. Maybe one day, I’ll get to visit Erwin, too.”