The ‘Circle’ from acting to directing is complete for Ashley Williams

Familiar TV face steps behind the cameras for Lifetime

Ashley Williams directs “Circle of Deception,” airing Saturday on Lifetime.

So much of Ashley Williams’ acting is light and sunny, her feature-directing debut is surprisingly dark.

The alum of “How I Met Your Mother” and numerous cable movies — including Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas in Evergreen” franchise — tackles one of novelist Ann Rule’s true-crime stories with the Lifetime film “Circle of Deception,” premiering Saturday, March 6. Diane Neal (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) plays an ex-beauty queen whose best friend (Jill Morrison) claims to be a victim of spousal abuse; when the husband is murdered during the holiday season, police detectives are challenged to determine the culprit. Tahmoh Penikett also stars,

“I’ve been acting my whole life,” the genuinely bubbly Williams reflects. “I got my first job when I was 11, and I was on a soap opera in my teenage years (‘As the World Turns’), and I became really interested in the technical aspects of what we were doing … but at the time, I think I was a little ahead of myself. There weren’t a lot of female directors, so my curiosity wasn’t necessarily encouraged.”

Williams credits her arrival in the director’s chair to the “incredible support system around me. A good friend of mine is an executive who said, ‘We don’t have enough female directors. You have a really good reputation, you’re very smart, and you can do this.’ It was a good reminder to me that the ship hadn’t sailed yet.”

Williams directed a short film previously, but the adaptation of Rule’s book “Practice to Deceive” appealed to her because it would be so unexpected from her. “When we learn about these true-crime stories, it’s usually through the news,” Williams notes. “What’s really cool is that Lifetime gives the audience an opportunity to get into the characters, and that kind of storytelling makes me come alive with creative excitement.”

Moving into directing doesn’t mean Williams  — the sister of fellow actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley (“Father of the Bride,” “According to Jim”) — is leaving acting behind, as she proved recently on ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and in Hallmark Channel’s “Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater.”

“I love research and preparation,” she explains. “That’s a big part of my process as an actor. For this (movie), I went out and got both hardcover and paperback copies of Ann Rule’s book, and they were dog-eared with Post-Its hanging out of them by the time I was done. A director is both the questioner- and answerer-in-chief, so to be able to answer detailed questions, I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared.”

Circle of Deception Premieres Saturday, March 6 at 8/7c
Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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