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Before Branden Williams became one of L.A.’s top real estate brokers as founder of The Beverly Hills Estates and a rep for stars like Jennifer Lopez and Bruce Willis, he was known for acting work on everything from Entourage to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. And while he loves his day job — one that finds him working opposite wife and fellow realtor Rayni Williams — the 47-year-old couldn’t turn down an opportunity to jump back into the acting game once an offer came his way.
Williams is currently filming The Offer, Paramount+ limited series about the making of The Godfather. In it, Williams stars opposite Miles Teller’s Al Ruddy as the actor Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi in the iconic Francis Ford Coppola film. Williams says that casting director John Papsidera reached out by email; the two have known each other for the years, with the casting director even taking notice when Williams was written about for his real estate deals in publications including The Hollywood Reporter.
“He’s one of the biggest casting directors in Hollywood and sent me an email asking me if I was still interested in acting because he was working on this project,” recalls Williams, adding that the Russo role included exploring a colorful past in which he flirted with the mob and was close pals with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. “I responded with three words: ‘No problem, easy.'”
Williams recruited realtor pal Zach Goldsmith to help him tape his audition (wife Rayni also offered input), and he sent it in. “Two days later, they told me I got it,” Williams says. “Lucky enough, I have a great team now and I’m able to do this. I don’t have an agent and I don’t want to go back to acting, but I had to say yes to this because I believe that God puts things in front of you to challenge you.”
Returning to film on the iconic Paramount lot has been “an emotional roller coaster,” says Williams, who is also close to newly installed president and CEO Brian Robbins, a client. “I grew up right by there and used to go to Lucy’s Al Adobe all the time. It’s such an iconic, full-circle experience to be on that lot.”
Williams says he never had aspirations to be an actor. But one day in the 1990s, Williams headed to the theater to see a movie with friends when he found himself in one of those classic Hollywood scenes. A casting director approached him in the theater and said he had the perfect look for a short film called The Ritual that was about to go with noted Hollywood filmmaker Gore Verbinski.
“All of a sudden, I’m in my early 20s, acting and making a good living while working on some really cool films,” he explained of the trajectory that saw him take parts in films like Can’t Hardly Wait, Never Been Kissed and TV shows like Party of Five, Clueless and The X-Files. He also turned heads and found himself the subject of many stories for playing Scott, a love interest to Eric McCormack’s Will on Will & Grace, after the two shared an on-screen kiss.
While he enjoyed his Hollywood career, by the time he turned 30, Williams was itching for a change. “I was still auditioning, but I felt like I had peaked,” he explains of his emotional state at the time. “I needed to make some personal changes in my life and step away from everything, and the real estate market happened to be hot at the time. So, I got my license and funny enough, I sold a $5.5 million property that year and a $20 million one the next.”
Though he may have stopped acting for a few years, Hollywood has never been far from his sales pitch. “For me, Hollywood is one of the coolest places in the world. This is where people come to make it and discover a new industry of filmmaking and television that influences the rest of the world. Whenever I sell real estate, I always try to implement that because people come to Los Angeles to go after their dreams. It truly is a special place. There’s a reason they call it the City of Angels. Just being a part of The Offer is an honor and a dream come true for me.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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