Candyman’s Vanessa Estelle Williams on Her Character’s Tough, Terrifying Journey

Candyman’s Vanessa Estelle Williams on Her Character’s Tough, Terrifying Journey
Thirty years later, Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Estelle Williams) is still haunted by the past. (Image: Universal Pictures)

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is a sequel to the 1992 original, but most of its characters are new to the story. The big exception, of course, is the McCoy family: artist Anthony — just a baby during the events of the first film — and his fiercely protective mother, Anne-Marie. Vanessa Estelle Williams reprised her role as Anne-Marie in the 2021 movie, which hits Blu-ray today — and in a recent interview over video, Gizmodo got a chance to ask her about it.

It’s been nearly 30 years since audiences saw Anne-Marie dramatically reuniting with her infant son after he was kidnapped from her Chicago apartment by Tony Todd’s sinister Candyman. From an actor’s point of view, Williams said picking back up with a character she last played three decades ago was a unique experience.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to investigate where your character is today. It was really fulfilling and marvellous, especially because of who the creative team was, to see where we were going to take the character and how we were going to make [the story] relevant for the day,” Williams said. “It was so keenly handled in terms of speaking with such clarity about what gentrification really means, and who it affects and how it affects them, and what violence in the community really means for a little boy — and what happens to that little boy? Colman Domingo’s character is completely traumatized and it becomes, you know, violence begets violence and is an ongoing thing. The story, now in the hands of [these Black creators], became more authentic and more relatable in terms of like, yeah, this is what would actually happen — the point of view, and who’s telling the story, greatly matters.”

Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his mother (Vanessa Estelle Williams)  (Image: Universal Pictures) Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his mother (Vanessa Estelle Williams) (Image: Universal Pictures)

Anne-Marie’s presence is felt throughout the film; Anthony, played as an adult by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, sees his mother’s name flash on his phone screen, and she’s mentioned in conversations he has with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris). But though Williams is only onscreen for one pivotal scene, the actor still took the time to flesh out the story of what Anne-Marie’s been up to since 1992. “You know, she moved on up ever so much, given her limitations in terms of education. But she’s making a lower-middle-class, working-class living as a nurse’s assistant. She’s got knowledge, she’s able to move her child singlehandedly without, necessarily, a consistent man in her life. I’d like to think that she’s had some relationships, some healthy relationships,” Williams said. “But certainly when we meet her in the ‘90s, she’s a single mum trying to make it. She’s courageous enough as a parent to allow her child to not have to, like, be an engineer or an attorney or something like that; [instead, he’s working] in this uncertain kind of field, being an artist, and that he is able to be a successful artist is mind-blowing, against all of these odds, against all of their humble beginnings.”

While it might seem to the viewer that Anthony and Anne-Marie are somewhat estranged in DaCosta’s movie — he dodges her calls and “forgets” to show up when they have plans — Williams has a more nuanced perspective on their relationship. “I think that when we meet Anthony, he’s in sort of an artistic crisis, which is the reason why the Candyman gets summoned,” Williams said. “I didn’t get the sense that they were estranged. I just think that he didn’t see her as much as she wanted him to. Like, if you think about him being her whole world, certainly the star of her world — and he’s got this new woman. This big, big, big life. So it’s easy for a mum to feel sort of outside of that: ‘Those aren’t my people. I’m not at all fancy like you are now.’ So that was more my take on it, not that he was estranged necessarily, but that he didn’t see her enough or as much as she would have wanted to. Certainly, he was putting her off in this particular time that we meet him in the movie because of what was going on in terms of the Candyman being summoned and all that he was moving through in terms of what’s going on with his body and his life.”

Williams is fond of her character, a survivor not just of supernatural evils but also a life that hasn’t been very easy, to say the least. “Anne-Marie is the bomb. She’s my hero. The unfortunate thing for her and many mothers in this case — and that’s all Black mothers, no matter what your socio-economical standing is — is that we as mamas cannot protect our children from these systems, these Candymen, these evils that are set up to kill our boys and our girls. That’s the trajectory that Anne-Marie goes through,” Williams said, “In that heartbreaking scene between the two of them where [Anthony] asks, ‘So why did you lie to me?’ Well, she’s been lying to protect him, and she’s been hoping never to have this conversation, never to have to speak to this — and the monster returns. That’s the sort of metaphor that’s so impactful for me, for the Black community, that we talk about the metaphor of what the horror of Candyman really is. They speak to that in Lovecraft Country [too]. We can tell this horror story where people are dying, but the horror that we can’t walk away from when we leave the theatre is a sustaining thing that is really bone-chilling.”

Candyman, previously available on digital, hits DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD today.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.