Academy award-winning Michelle Williams, 36, known for playing difficult roles in such movies as My Week with Marilyn, 2011, Shutter Island as well as Blue Valentine, in 2010, and Brokeback Mountain in 2005, stars in Manchester by the Sea, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination this year.
She stars alongside Casey Affleck (who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor) in this heart-wrenching story about the aftermath of a marriage when the unthinkable occurs concerning their children. It’s also a story about moving on and difficulties that ensue.
Williams has of course endured her own tragedy when Heath Ledger, the father of her 11-year old daughter, Matilda, unexpectedly died in 2008.
Williams is currently shooting The Greatest Showman on Earth with Hugh Jackman.
This is a very dark film. How difficult was it playing a mother who has suffered the worst kind of tragedy? What was the mood like on set?
The mood was pervasive on the set and it remained pretty much unbroken the entire time. The Casey that I see now is very different than the Casey that I saw then. He was really a man of a few words and as far as the emotionality of the movie it’s the thought that you can’t help but think as a parent. It’s the thought you don’t want to think, but somehow you find yourself thinking. When you love someone so much, you think, ‘What would I do if I lost you?’ You try to not let yourself rest in that place but in this movie I had to let myself rest in that place. I didn’t have to prepare for how would I feel if that were to happen in my life because that fear already exists. It’s so powerful that you don’t have to reach for it.
Your character manages somehow to move on, as much as she can and have a life. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s about how people stay alive after tragedy. It would move me to tears to think of this woman, this character not only getting out of bed, not only getting out of her pajamas but putting on make-up, valuing herself enough to go get a haircut, accepting when someone asks her on a date, being open enough to live and being open enough to have another child. That to me is the ultimate bravery, not just to survive but to also choose to live a life despite tragedy.
What has your daughter taught you about love?
She taught me everything about everything!
In what way?
There’s no aspect of my life that goes untouched by being a mother. There’s nothing about me that hasn’t changed or been affected. When you have a kid your choices become so much more clear. For example, I think before taking on a role, ‘Is this something that is worth my time away from her?’ There are different ways that it can be worth it but it has to have a very outstanding value to take me away because I do think of my work as the thing that supports us but it’s also a record I want for her as she grows up. If she’s interested to know what I was doing when I was away and that my reasons (although we’re never really away because she’s with me when I do things) are sound.
You’ve achieved a lot at such a relatively young age. What are you most proud of?
I found this picture recently. I was cleaning something out and I found this picture of me at 15 or 14 or something at a school dance. I am just so awkward and uncomfortable looking. More than anything I’m just really proud of having come a long way from that girl. I feel so embracing of where I started, booking the occasional TV commercial, doing sitcoms, being on a WB series and I hold that person so close because I’ve grown up a lot and I’m still me. I’m still the same person. I still have the same values and dreams but there is no denying how far I’ve come and it wasn’t easy at all. I didn’t have a clean start or a fast start. I was nothing special and I wish that I could travel back in time and say to that girl, ‘It’s going to be okay. One day you’re going to make work that you’re proud of and work with people that you admire. You’re going to come a long way.’ So more than anything I feel kind of pleased about that.
When you have an emotionally grueling scene, and you had many in this movie, how do you de-stress at the end of the day?
I like to stick my head out of the car window on the drive, yeah (laughs) like a dog. On the drive back from the set I like to hang my head out of the window and have the wind rush past my face. It feels good.
Do you still have a dog?
Yeah. The same dog? She’s almost 5. She’s a Spaniely little thing. She’s really cute.
What’s her name?
Can you talk about your relationship with Louis Vuitton? What has it given you? What have you learned about this art form as opposed to acting?
I think something that I really love in the work that I do is the same thing that I’ve found within this relationship with a brand – I like it to feel like family. I like to have personal relationships with people. It makes me feel free to do my best work because I feel like I can really be myself and that’s the relationship that now, after 3 years, I feel like I have with these people. I feel like I have a lot of continuity and a lot of friendships.
You mentioned that you’re still the same person with the same values. What kind of values were you referring to? What do you appreciate in other people?
What attracts me to other people and I appreciate in other people? When I say that I feel like I’m the same then as I am now, I mean that, all I’ve ever really wanted is to tell the truth and to have the opportunity to do it and that’s what makes me feel happy. As far as what attracts me to people, that’s probably changed and for the better (laughs). I think I used to be more easily influenced and now I probably have a better set of standards with which to interact with other people.