Michelle Williams: this former teen queen’s got a whole new scene – Actress Profile – Brief Article – Interview
Scott Lyle Cohen
SCOTT LYLE COHEN: Tell me about this English moment you’re having. [Williams laughs] After years of playing the all-American girl on TV’s Dawson’s Creek and a few film roles, in your new movie, Me Without You, and your current Off-Broadway play, Smelling a Rat, you play British characters.
MICHELLE WILLIAMS: You know, I’d never done an accent before.
SLC: You pulled it off very well.
MW: Thank you.
SLC: Holly in Me Without You is a brilliant, strong–well, strong in her own way–character. It must have been a treat to play her.
MW: It was. I fell in love with the script. It’s just beautiful and so intricate. You know, nobody was more surprised that I got that part than me. I wouldn’t have thought that anybody would have cast me in that role. I met the director, Sandra [Goldbacher], just once, and I didn’t read for her–we just talked about a dream that I’d had, and two months later I got the part.
SLC: What was the dream about?
MW: I think it was something about driving and being taken out of my car … I can’t remember the specifics. Sandra is really open to that kind of stuff and she responded to it in an uncannily enthusiastic way. I mean, nobody ever saw me as thoughtful or smart. But she did.
SLC: Over the course of the film you play Holly at three distinct periods in her life: As a teenager, a college student and an adult–a span of 12 years. What sort of challenges did that represent?
MW: It was a really tight schedule, and sometimes we would go from 15 or 16 to 28 in the course of just a day. It had to be done that way and Sandra gave us little expressways to the characters’ different ages, like giggling and turning in on your body for the young girls, and then really cultivating that sort of stillness that Holly has when she’s 28.
SLC: Holly’s relationship with Marina [Anna Friel] caused her so much pain. Why do you think she stayed in it for so long?
MW: Marina was like a light. She was compelling and dramatic and beautiful and there was always something going on with her. I think Holly wanted to see that reflected on herself and once it started, she couldn’t stop. Both girls love each other a lot, but the best of them never comes out when they’re around each other.
SLC: How much of Holly is in you, and vice versa?
MW: [pause] I feel like she’s a version of me, but I’m not sure how to explain it. She’s me because I played her, but she’s very much Sandra.
SLC: The two of you must’ve had an incredible connection, then.
MW: Yeah. We could sit and be really quiet with each other, and we’d have nice conversations. It was very comfortable.
SLC: And now you’re working with Scott Elliott on Smelling a Rat, who’s also very much about establishing great relationships with his actors. Have you worked in the theater before?
MW: Once. I did Killer Joe three years ago at the SoHo Playhouse. I’m not qualified to call myself a stage actor, but I like it, and I’ll work for it.
SLC: How’d you get this part?
MW: Scott saw Me Without You and thought I could do a British accent, and he talked to the director of Killer Joe. He did a little background check on me. [laughs] We talked on the phone, and he asked me my thoughts on the script, and then I got the part a couple of days later– which is fortunate for me, because I don’t audition well. I get terribly nervous.
SLC: Flushed cheeks, can’t speak, sweaty palms nervous?
MW: Sweaty palms, my heart beats. I’m never able to do what I want to with the material.
SLC: Do you get that way when you perform?
MW: I get really nervous before a show, but in a different way. I’m excited.
SLC: Performing Smelling a Rat in such an intimate house–with, what, 100 seats?–must be nerve-wracking for you.
MW: 99 seats. [laughs] It’s frightening, but it keeps you honest. It gets easier every night.
SLC: How does theater differ from film or TV?
MW: It’s an endurance thing. I feel like I have to really build myself up for it. But I like the life of it, the independence. I like that there’s nobody following you around or making sure that you’re on time. You have to depend on yourself, and you know that other people depend on you.
Scott Lyle Cohen is Interview’s Senior Editor.
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