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With Lifetime airing Wendy Williams: The Movie on Saturday night, one of the hot topics has been the actress who plays the deliciously outspoken daytime TV host.

Ciera Payton is best known as one of the stars of the BET series The Oval, a political soap opera where she plays Lilly Winthrop, a fashion designer, and wife to the President's Chief of Staff.

Wendy Williams: The Movie
Credit: Ryan Plummer and Brendan George Ko / Courtesy of Lifetime Copyright 2021

The Oval is created, executive produced, written, and directed by mogul Tyler Perry, with who Payton has a long history with. Before the 35-year-old actress starred on his TV show, she appeared in his 2009 film Madea Goes to Jail and his 2019 film A Madea Family Funeral.

Perry, however, is not the only Black filmmaking icon that the New Orleans native has had repeat collaborations with. After starring in his 2013 Oldboy remake, Payton once again worked with director Spike Lee on the second season of She's Gotta Have It on Netflix, in a recurring role as Jameelah Daws.

Ciera Payton
Credit: Amanda Edwards/FilmMagic

When it came time to cast the lead role for Wendy Williams: The Movie, Payton told Essence that the talk show diva's fans had already pegged her as the right person for the job. "I'm just going throughout my life, I'm auditioning, and people were tweeting me, 'You should play Wendy Williams.' And I didn't even know that they were doing a movie about Wendy Williams," she recalls. "Finally in January 2020 Leah Daniels Butler, the casting director, called my agent and was like, 'Hey, we're casting for this movie, can Ciera come in?' And I was like, 'What? Look at God!'"

While Payton got the part without any additional callback auditions, she tells The Hollywood Reporter that she initially wasn't able to do it due to production being in conflict with season 2 of The Oval. When COVID-19 hit the United States though, it derailed both projects. "Tyler, who had been trying really hard to make both things work for me, called me mentioned that they were still very interested — and that I might have another shot if they got back into production later in the year…By June, Tyler decided to go back into production for The Oval — but we shot 22 episodes in ten days. Two weeks later, I was on a flight to Vancouver to shoot Wendy Williams."

In an Instagram caption commemorating the end of production, Payton writes "Working on The Wendy Williams Biopic will always have a special place in my heart and I'm forever grateful to everyone who put so much into making this project possible."

To see Ciera Payton as Wendy Williams, watch Wendy Williams: The Movie on Saturday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. ET.

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