How Lifetime Totally Changed The Game For Women In Hollywood - Exclusive

Considering she's starred in Lifetime films like Montana Sky and The Front, actor Ashley Williams knew what she was doing when she decided to make her feature-length directorial debut with Lifetime's true crime drama Circle of Deception. Still, in an exclusive interview with Nicki Swift ahead of its release, the How I Met Your Mother alum was humble about all the ways her decades in the industry prepared her to helm the Diane Neal-fronted take on Ann Rule's Practice to Deceive. "What's the Ratatouille quote that's like, 'Just because you've been in the kitchen, doesn't mean you can cook,'" she joked.

The film follows the subtly evil circle of lies that led to the death of father and husband Russel Douglas at the hands of his wife's friend Peggy Sue Thomas (Neal). "People say nobody treats women worse than other women, and I think this movie is a little bit of an exploration of that," Williams explained. It's only fitting that the project, which features a female-led cast, was directed and written by women.

As far as Lifetime productions go, though, Williams said that's all par for the course. "Even when I was in high school, they don't [call it] this anymore, but [they were] 'Lifetime: Television for Women,'" Williams explained. "They were ahead of the Me Too movement and they were at the forefront of creating jobs for women from before when I was a child and before it was cool."

Lifetime's Broad Focus initiative provides opportunities for women creators

Since 2015, Lifetime has made it a point to give women "more opportunities to write, develop, produce, and direct content" for the network with its Broad Focus initiative, per Deadline. Ashley Williams' Circle of Deception is part of Lifetime's winter 2021 slate of "Ripped From the Headlines" films, which also includes actor Elisabeth Rohm's directorial debutGirl in the Basement. "Everybody's trying to get to 50/50 gender parity when it comes to employment, [but] Lifetime's been there for years," Williams said. "I really am proud to have been a graduate of their Broader Focus initiative and program, and it was an incredible first real directing job for me."

Not only is Lifetime fostering female creatives, but they're also taking these "pretty well-known" true crime stories and telling them with some humanity. Spending an hour and a half with these characters, viewers get to really "study" the psychology behind their actions. "We can watch the news and we can get the story and kind of gawk, but getting to sit down for a feature film, [we] essentially [get to understand] the motivations behind the characters' actions," Williams explained.

The network allowed Ashley Williams to throw everything out the window

From Diane Neal's stone cold mug and moody voiceover as she recites Peggy Sue Thomas' line about being an underestimated beauty queen to the haunting instrumental that bookends the film, Circle of Deception allowed Ashley Williams to add her own flair to the true crime drama. "From the very first meeting that I ever had with them as a director, they said to me, 'Throw away your ideas of what a traditional Lifetime thriller is and make your own,'" Williams explained. "'Make every choice your own in this movie, we want it to be authentically your story.'" 

As "a first time director," Williams said it was "absolutely incredibly empowering to have been given that kind of authorship and agency," and she hinted that it's definitely not the last time we'll see her behind the camera, adding that she's "excited to do it again."

Circle of Deception is now airing on Lifetime.