Age & Hometown: 31; Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Current Role: Breaking down opposite Tom Hanks as Abner Louima—a Haitian immigrant whose brutal assault by police earned national attention in 1997—in Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy.
Mock Trial and Error: Thanks to a childhood spent watching crime procedurals with his grandmother, Southern gentleman Stephen Tyrone Williams pictured a future for himself in the courtroom—but joining a mock trial team made him realize “I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to be the actor playing the lawyer.” Williams tried his hand at musicals, but abandoned them after “a string of four consecutive shows where I was playing a singing slave,” he recalls with a laugh. Focusing instead on drama, he studied at the University of Alabama (“the school where Forrest Gump played football! Full circle!”), then began building his career in regional theater. In the past two seasons, Williams achieved a breakthrough off-Broadway with well-reviewed performances in Burning, My Children! My Africa! and Harper Regan, leading up to his Broadway debut in Lucky Guy.
Riding with the Pros: “Oh god, the first day at the table read felt like the worst first day of school ever,” Williams says of his introduction to Tom Hanks, director George C. Wolfe and personal idol Courtney B. Vance, who originated several roles Williams has played regionally. “I thought I was going to puke!” Shaking off the intimidation, the young actor found Hanks to be an “incredible, disarming” scene partner. He also picked up tips from the show’s heavy-hitting ensemble. “They’re like surfers, man,” he gushes. “They acknowledge the energy that the audience brings and ride it like pros.” When the performance begins each night, Williams enters what he calls "primal fight or flight mode" and watches from the wings as he prepares for his big second act scene: “I can't describe it,” he muses, “but there's magic that happens when you get in the house in front of 1,500 people.”
Looking Up Louima: Before landing the role of Abner Louima, Williams prepped for his audition by diving deep into the real-life case and piecing together the events of the ill-fated night in 1997. “There are several versions of what happened, but I put together a timeline of what seemed plausible to me,” he says, working from police affidavits, testimonies, court documents and Mike McAlary’s articles. Needless to say, the hard work paid off. “People remember where they were when they hear this story,” he says, noting the crowd’s audible reaction when Lucky Guy finally arrives in Louima's hospital room. “It’s prescient because we’re still dealing with stop and frisk,” he notes. “I love the idea that we’re forced to look at history and take stock of where we are right now and try to figure out what the solution is.”