In May 2015, just a week before Hutchison’s graduation, seniors Lillie Burrow and Adele Fish were performing one last dress rehearsal of ’night, Mother, a provocative Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Marsha Norman. The audience in Hutchison’s black box theater, comprised of fellow Acting I class students and a few teachers, was rapt. And so was their special guest—Virginia “Ginger” Williams, a television and movie actor, who graduated from Hutchison in 1996.
As the dramatic ending played out and the lights came up, some students wiped tears from their faces. Everyone applauded. Williams said, “Ladies, you are doing such fantastic work. You should be really proud of yourselves!” Classmates offered similar praise for the performances.
Then, the attention turned to Williams. The girls were anxious to ask about her experiences in Hollywood and for any tips she might have. One of the first questions—what has been your favorite role? “Maria in The Sound of Music and Jesus in Godspell,” Williams replied without missing a beat. But those roles weren’t in Hollywood; they were both roles she performed while at Hutchison.
You may not have caught Williams in those roles, but if you’ve watched television in the past 20 years, you’ve no doubt seen her. She starred in the comedy/drama series Fairly Legal on the USA Network and as the bridezilla, Caitlin, in the hit ABC Family movie Revenge of the Bridesmaids (a favorite of several Hutchison girls). Williams also was the lead in the Lifetime telenovela Monarch Cove and has had starring roles and recurring characters on many other shows, including How I Met Your Mother, Strangers with Candy, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, The Mentalist, Rules of Engagement, Better Off Ted, Lie to Me, In Plain Sight, Two and a Half Men, My Wife and Kids, Jack & Bobby and Veronica Mars, to name just a few.
Against most odds, Williams has been working as an actor since graduating from Hutchison … actually, before graduating. While visiting New York City to audition for a spot in the undergraduate theater program at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, Williams was able to try out for the soap opera One Life to Live. She got the part, and spent her senior year traveling back and forth between Hutchison and filming the soap in New York.
“I’ve always been able to make a really good living doing what I love to do,” Williams said. “I’m very humbled by the success I’ve been able to have.”
Williams is what we call a Hutchison lifer—she started in junior kindergarten at four years old and went through 12th grade. “I got the whole Hutch experience!”
Was there an “aha moment” for Williams in terms of knowing that acting was her thing? “I just sort of fell into acting by way of singing, because if you were in the musicals, then you acted as well. Then I sort of discovered that I loved storytelling so much—plays were so fun for me and I loved working on characters. That’s when acting sort of took over.”
Lots of credit goes to Hutchison teachers and faculty, of course. “Alice Claire Colville was the music teacher. I remember her always being very loving and really supportive of me,” Williams said. “Then there were Sara and Leonard Frey. They were the heads of upper school. They were very supportive of the arts and of me ... even while I was working and in school—as long as I kept my academics up, which I did.”
And last, but not least, Anne Marie Caskey ’80, current Theatre Artistic Director, who taught Williams, Burrow ’15, and Fish ’15, and now teaches other aspiring Hutchison actors. “She’s just awesome,” Williams said. “She’s absolutely the reason I became an actor.”
Caskey recalled a different favorite role of Williams’ while at Hutchison. “She was the “Star to Be” in Annie. It was just one tiny part. She walked on and sang ‘NYC, just got here this morning!’ It was that small of a role. And that was what everyone remembered from the show.”
Williams stressed the importance of learning the craft. “Don’t rely on luck and talent, because it will only take you so far.” She expressed her belief in the liberal arts education that she received at Hutchison and Fordham. “Someone said to me early on, ‘the smarter, more well-rounded person makes the smarter, more well-rounded actor.’ ”
But Williams also wanted to be realistic with the hopeful actors. “It’s an incredibly difficult career choice in terms of being able to support yourself fully.” She pointed out the many careers in the industry: costuming, set design, entertainment law, marketing, assistant directing, among others. Williams’ husband, Bradford Bricken (who hails from Tullahoma, Tenn.), loves the entertainment world. He worked his way up from the mail room of an agency to become a voice-over agent and is now a talent and literary manager.
Williams is careful not to let her career take 100 percent of her life and strives for balance. “I have a great, supportive, loving husband, and I have awesome friends.”
She’s been an advocate for Free the Slaves, an organization that seeks to eradicate human trafficking. And she was an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and has spoken on their behalf in Washington, D.C.
What’s next for Williams? She’s in a new movie called Woodlawn. “It’s a really fantastic movie about God, football, and the South,” she said, and co-stars Sean Astin and Jon Voight. Eventually she’d like to produce and direct as well, but that’s in the future. She’s still enjoying acting. “I’m grateful that I took the path that I did, but I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I am very blessed and very lucky.”
Virginia and her husband welcomed their first son, Bradford Jr. (Ford), on November 19, 2015. They also have a new labradoodle puppy named Elvis—a nod to Williams’ Memphis roots.
A Lesson in Gratitude
Williams recalled one particularly tough acting and life experience. When she was cast as the lead on Monarch Cove, it was a dream come true, but it ended up being very difficult. As the lead actor, Williams was in virtually every scene, working 18- to 20-hour days and averaging about three hours of sleep. She was shooting in Australia, away from family and friends, so she was quite lonely. “It was grueling,” she said. “And it was all on my shoulders … I mean, if the show comes out badly, I’m the face of it.”
When the show was about to premiere, Williams recalled seeing a giant billboard advertisement with her face on it near a Starbucks she frequented in Los Angeles. The billboard didn’t bring her any happiness. “A few days later, I was having a heart-to-heart with God, and I remember thinking, ‘You know what, I’ve wanted this. I’m going to go back, I’m going to sit at that Starbucks, and I’m going to look at that billboard, and I’m just going to have gratitude.’ I sat down at Starbucks, I took a deep breath, I looked up, and the billboard had changed to an iPod ad …
“All I could do was laugh. But it was the best life lesson, and I think of it all the time—you don’t get to pick and choose when to be grateful. Be grateful in all circumstances.”