Zelda Williams is chatting about bouldering with YouTube star Hannah Hart, a form of rock climbing performed without ropes or harnesses. In a way, it’ s climbing in its simplest form. Just you, the rock, and your moves.
Hart is covered in bandaids from her first indoor bouldering experience in Los Angeles the prior evening. “It's safer to climb down than jump, though they have padding,” explains Zelda. She’s using words like belay (which, we had to look up), referring to techniques used by climbers so that they don’t fall too far. It’s a sport that Zelda is well-versed in, having surprisingly amateur bouldered with her brothers growing up in San Francisco. But as you get to know the writer-actress-director, her knowledge of all things random feels perfectly in place. One of the walking Wikipedia's favorite fact to drop on the unknowing? "Humans are technically, by our own definition, an endangered species, at least where the universe is concerned."
The daughter of the late comedian Robin Williams and producer Marsha Garces Williams, the Zelda's childhood was normal-ish. And though the 27-year-old grew up with a legendary father, she’s never tethered herself to his name. In many respects her move to Los Angeles at 17, after taking a few college courses and deciding she would try her hand in the glittery city, was one without ropes.
It was Zelda, her ideas, and her dance moves (which, the performer will occasionally show off on IG). But roles didn’t simply appear. It’s been ten years since that initial move. “As an actress I was tired of waiting around for people to give me permission,” shares Zelda. “I wanted to constantly tell stories, whether I’d been ‘cast’ to do so or not! So I took the time between projects usually spent waiting for the next person to hire me working to hire myself.”
During that time of “lots of lonely nights in” and “many carpal tunnel exercises,” she developed 12 scripts. One for every month if you’re counting. “I got to spend almost this entire year telling stories, as a writer, a director AND an actress! It was hard work, but it’s been a literal dream come true.”
In 2015 she directed musician and friend of over ten years JoJo’s music video for “Save My Soul.” It’s a stark and beautiful work shot over the course of one night in the desert, touching on addiction, powerlessness and loss. Most recently she directed “Zero,” an episode she also wrote for the forthcoming anthology thriller “Dark/Web,” and has been actively shopping her pilot about dominatrices in legal dens. (Yes, she did plenty of in-person research.) “While I think the sexual politics of it may be too ahead of it's time, it's still so fun to open that discussion up in a room full of suits,” she laughs.
Zelda doesn’t see her move toward directing as a shift, “but more,” she shares, “an expansion on what I already was doing. I'm still an actor, but acting is a popularity contest, and I wanted to create even if I wasn't in demand because it's what I love.” Acknowledging that “there isn't a perfectly Zelda shaped hole waiting there for me.”
That desire is what drives her past inevitable times of doubt. “Truthfully, I'm one of those sci-fi nerds who's most fascinated by our relative cosmic insignificance. We're 7 billion tiny, short life-spanned ants on one fairly unremarkable spinning rock out of an infinite number. What we do as individuals, in a universal sense, means nothing.”
But don’t write that off as nihilism. The video game lover says, “We have to believe that, as individuals, what we're doing means something, that everything accumulates somehow to equal a life that doesn't immediately fade out of memory as soon as it ends. So I create, even if no one will ever see it or read it, because at least it means I'm still doing something, and therefore, still living.”
Her relationship to herself is “ever-changing,” noting “though thankfully mostly for the better, even in spite of everything that has happened.” And she’s settling into herself more, taking stock of who she wants to be. “This last five years was especially hard, and who knows where the next five will take me, but as I've gotten closer and closer to 30, I've found myself very much looking forward to my life ahead, however long it may be.”
“I've become more comfortable expressing myself,” she admits. “Even when I know the response may not be positive. I've started living my life for me, as opposed to the person I'm with, the family I was born into, or the expectations of anyone who cares enough to be watching. And, though this will inevitably come and go, I've finally become more comfortable with who I see in the mirror.”
It’s a bravery that filters through her every move. It’s bouldering a career; climbing without ropes.