Why Would Anyone Give Her Away?

updated 01/13/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

IF KIMBERLY WILLIAMS LOOKS AS NERVOUS as a newlywed these days, she has good reason. In Father of the Bride, Disney's remake of the 1950 comedy classic, Williams, a 20-year-old Northwestern University performance studies major, makes her big-screen debut in the role originated by the then 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. A tough act to follow? Williams calls it "intimidating," but critics are praising her sweet portrayal of California princess Annie Banks, who coaxes a $50,000 wedding out of her frazzled father, George. (Steve Martin inherits Spencer Tracy's empty pockets.) And Disney was impressed enough to sign her to two more films—for a figure that, at the very least, should enable her to buy her own silver and china.

The career honeymoon, though, is not completely blissful. Nestled in a comfortable sofa in the sorority house where she lives on campus, Williams confides, "I feel like my arms are tied to the wings of a plane, and I'm gonna be flying. Half of me is so thrilled, but the other half is scared."

Yet on the Bride set in Los Angeles, Kim was "unbelievably cool," marvels director Charles (Baby Boom) Shyer. "She was always good on the first take," Martin confirms, "and nothing scared her." There was one awkward etiquette problem: How does a lady go to the too when she's sealed all day in yards of silk, satin and chantilly lace wedding gown? Kim giggles. "There would be a loud announcement: 'Okay, everyone, Kim has to go to the bathroom—10-minute break!' And I'd run with three assistants to help me in and out of the dress."

She wasn't the first choice to wear it. Phoebe (Lace) Cates was originally cast as Annie but had to bow out due to pregnancy. With six weeks to find a replacement, Shyer and Nancy Meyers, his filmmaking partner, with whom he has lived for 15 years, fast-forwarded through hundreds of audition videos that Meyers recalls being "all lips and hair and spandex" before pausing on Williams's. "We were looking for someone who still hadn't left the nest yet," Shyer explains, "and could still be attached to her dad. In fact, Kim is."

It's not hard to see why. Like George Banks, Gurney Williams, 50, a free-lance science and health writer, is his daughter's most adoring fan. Her mother, Linda, a fund-raiser at Sarah Lawrence College, remembers him "pressing his nose against the window of the nursery for five straight days" at the Mount Kisco, N.Y., hospital where Kimberly was born prematurely. "I remember holding her head in my left hand," says her dad, "talking to her and doing funny routines to keep us both awake. She seemed to be amused by that."

Which just might explain her early inclinations. The oldest of three children raised in Rye, N.Y. (brother Jay is 17, sister Ashley, 13), Kim spent her preschool years singing and talking into a tape recorder, pretending to be a deejay. After a next-door neighbor, actress Anna (Another World) Holbrook, sent her photo to the William Morris agency, 14-year-old Kim saw her career launched. She went on to do commercials for Pizza Hut, Clearasil and o.b. tampons and, in 1990, landed her first dramatic TV role: a teenage "other woman" in an ABC After- school Special.

Working on Bride for three months last spring far from her family, Kim believes, "made me independent. I really grew up in many ways." Yet if friends call her driven, she insists she can also be "ditsy," revealing "the most irrational thing I ever did"—skinny-dipping with friends at 2 A.M. off a beach in Wales last summer. Williams has no steady beau and isn't about to wrap herself in satin and tulle anytime soon. "There are too many people I want to meet," she says, "and things I want to do." The first thing is finishing her junior year at Northwestern. When she does eventually fly the nest, her dad admits it will be hard for him. Watching his daughter in Bride, he says, "I went through a lot of the separation pangs of a real wedding. It's a little sad, but mostly it's triumphant for me to see her take flight—and I don't know where she's going to land."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
BONNIE BELL in Evanston, Ill.

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