She effortlessly walks the line between indie film darling and Hollywood star. Now Michelle Williams talks to Brooke Le Poer Trench about turning 30, being a mother, and her most challenging movie yet.Click here to see Michelle Williams' red carpet style.
One Hollywood stereotype, at least, applies to Michelle Williams. She is even smaller in person than she appears on screen – a slip of a girl, you might say. But that’s pretty much it. On a cool northern autumn day she greets me at the door of her rented house, not in Mayfair or Notting Hill, but in far West London. She’s home alone when I arrive, busy in the kitchen with no publicist in sight: “Come in, I’m just cutting up some fruit for us.” She politely offers a plate of apple quarters along with a selection of biscuits and cupcakes. “I managed to get into town for the first time today since we started filming and I found this great bakery,” she explains. So far, so normal.
Williams is exceptionally pretty, with porcelain skin and big eyes that light up when she’s excited. She recently turned 30, but could easily pass for 25. Her hair is cropped short and dyed platinum blonde, presumably for the Marilyn Monroe movie she’s currently shooting here in England. “I went this blonde before the movie,” she explains, “but now I have to get my roots done every week or they show through the wigs. Every week!” She shakes her head as she ponders all that maintenance. I tell her I’m grateful to be a brunette. “You’re so lucky,” she says, laughing. Then she curls up on the sofa, her thin, stockinged legs tucked beneath her, and readies for a chat.
At the moment, Williams is being hyped as an Oscar contender for her role as a stressed-out wife and mother in Blue Valentine
. It’s a far cry from her role as Jen Lindley on the US teen soap Dawson’s Creek
, the one that launched her career. She earned that gig at the tender age of 16 after spending a year on her own in LA, legally emancipated from her parents (it was technical, rather than moral, meant to get around some pesky contractual issues). Williams’ mum, dad and siblings stayed behind in San Diego, while she moved to North Carolina for the show. (She finished school via correspondence.) Six years later, she was a TV veteran.
That first break was big – and it left her aching for more serious work. The material soon found her, and in the film roles she chose both during the show’s run and after its finale in 2003, she revealed a gift for provocative drama (perhaps most memorably in her Oscar-nominated performance as tortured wife Alma in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain
) and comedy (she’s a dizzy riot alongside Kirsten Dunst in the Watergate send-up Dick
). She has repeatedly taken measured risks on small independent films (The Station Agent, Wendy and Lucy
) while impressing big-time directors like Todd Haynes (in the Bob Dylan tribute I’m Not There
), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York
) and Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island
Unfortunately, though, Williams became a household name for reasons that had little to do with her work. While shooting Brokeback Mountain
in 2004, she met Heath Ledger. They fell in love, moved in together, had a baby girl named Matilda and a couple of years later, split up. If their story ended there, they would just be another film-star couple that didn’t make it. But not long after their split, Ledger tragically died. Soon the paparazzi was tailing her and then-two-year-old daughter Matilda, trying to capture her grief when all she wanted to do was recover and get on with her life.
I don’t press her on this well-trodden subject matter. Williams doesn’t bring up Heath, either. But she does express a deep affection for his native Australia. “I return to Perth as often as I can to visit. There is a lot of mobility between Matilda and I and her family in Australia.” That flight, I say, is hell. “I know! It’s brutal, isn’t it? But it’s always worth it. I mean, what I wouldn’t give to go back to Byron Bay. The Margaret River is so gorgeous, too.” Her passion for the country means she has likely seen more of Australia then I have. “We haven’t been to Ayers Rock [Uluru],” she admits. “But it’s on the list.” This is an edited feature. To read the full interview with Michelle Williams, pick up madison at your local newsagents or buy online at Magshop.
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