“SHE’S NEVER BEEN HAPPIER!” Michelle Williams Interview from Jan.2006 by Stephen Holt
Originally published at that time by Www.Oscarwatch.com (Now www.awardsdaily.com)
Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nominee Michelle Williams talks about “Brokeback Mountain,” Oscar, her man Heath, and her new baby.
Hollywood’s new golden girl is definitely Michelle Williams, first time Oscar Nominee for Best Supporting Actress for the record-breaking, landmark film “Brokeback Mountain.” With the ballots now in the Academy voting members hands, “Brokeback” is still in the front-runner position with Eight Nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Michelle’s fiance Heath Ledger. Heath is also the father of their baby girl Matilda Rose.
Heath and Michelle are also making Oscar history by being the first real life couple nominated for playing opposite each other in the same film and the same year. And their acclaimed roles could also make history if they both each go home with their own little golden guy on March 5th.
Michelle exudes a warmth and a delightfully brainy, but bubbly glow as she talks with great affection of her man, her baby and her love for her Oscar nominated character, Alma, the betrayed wife of Ledger’s iconic gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar. If Ledger’s portrayal of Ennis is a man who is so repressed he is like a clenched fist, Michelle’s Alma is all heart.
Michelle is a marvelous a conversationalist as she is an actress, and her devotion to her art and her craft, is second only to her love of great writing.
Since she burst upon the world at age 15 on the WBs “Dawson’s Creek” ten years ago, she’s proven herself time and time again to be an intelligent actress with “chops” and not just another pretty teen face. After six long years on “Dawson’s,” she used her TV money wisely, allowing her the freedom to pursue quirky, unusual roles in indie films, like the love-scarred librarian in “The Station Agent” where she got to share a SAG ensemble award with its great cast including Patricia Clarkson and Peter Dinklage.
She also appearing notably on stage in New York, with Off Broadway’s red hot New Group, in Mike Leigh’s “anti-farce” “Smelling a Rat” under the direction of Scott Elliot.
I met Michelle in the electric atmosphere of the New York TV press junket for “Brokeback Mountain” in early December before the film opened. I had seen it in Toronto at the Film Festival, where the reaction was ecstatic. Grown men staggering out of the theatre and into the street in tears. My friend Rex Reed, immediately proclaimed it “a masterpiece.”
Then it wasn’t screened widely again until after Thanksgiving. And when I first met Michelle and Heath and Anne Hathaway, all hell had not broken lose yet. But I knew it was going to.
I interviewed her and told her that she and Heath and “Brokeback” were going to have a very active awards season, to say the very least. And most astonishingly of all, she remembered that I was the first one to tell her this.
It’s now a snowy afternoon in February in New York and Michelle is calling me on the phone from sunny L.A. Am I the happiest guy in the world today? Michelle’s joy is infectious. She’s an utter delight and a winner in every sense of the word.
MW: Hi, it’s Michelle Williams.
SH: Hi, Michelle! How are you?
MW: I am fine thank you. How are you doing?
SH: Oh! So excited to be talking to you!
MW: Thanks so much. Likewise.
SH: Do you remember me?
MW: I do. Of course. I remember.From the junket.( You can see that original TV interview from the “Brokeback Mountain” junket at my YouTube Channel. www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow)
SH: And you said to say “Hello” to everyone at the New Group(the New York theater company where she appeared in Mike Leigh’s “Smelling a Rat”) for you, and I did.
MW: Oh, thank you.
SH: My friend, Jill Clayburgh is in Scott’s ( New Group Artistic Director Scott Elliot)- He’s doing “Barefoot in the Park” with her right now on Broadway, and she said that he talks about you all the time. And how much he likes you.
MW: You’re kidding. That’s so nice.
SH: And everybody was thrilled that here, in this big moment of yours, you were thinking of them.
MW: Oh, that’s so sweet! Hey, you know, you were right. When we met, you knew exactly how well the movie was going to do. You predicted all of this.
SH: I know. I know. I’ve been riding the “Brokeback” bubble, too. (Laughs) I was the one who said it was “the Gay ‘Gone With the Wind’.”(MICHELLE laughs) and then people starting writing about me and saying I was “a Toronto Wag” and I had to call them up and correct them and that yes, I really was a film critic and a theatre critic.(Both laugh.) And so, I gotten written up by Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter. So now, I’m writing for Oscarwatch.com because of “Brokeback”!
MW: You’re kidding? Really?
SH: Yeah, that’s who I’m writing for now. In addition to doing my TV show.
MW: Oh my gosh!
SH: So “Brokeback” made me a star, too! (Both laugh.) Anyway, so, honey, congratulations!
MW: Thank you very much.
SH: When I met you, Matilda was five weeks old.
MW: I know. (Laughs)
SH: How old is she now?
MW: She’s now three months and one week.
SH: How’s she’s doing?
MW: She’s just fabulous. She really is.
SH: Does she look more like you or Heath?
MW: Personally, I think she looks the most like Heath, though people say that she’s a pretty balanced combination of the two of us.
SH: Well, that’s a very good-looking baby then.
MW: But I really see her Daddy in her.
SH: You must be so happy in the middle of all this. I mean, to get an Oscar nomination?
SH: And all of this? And you won the Broadcast Film Critics Award!
MW: I know, I’ve never been happier. I’ve never imagined that my life would turn out this way. I really didn’t.
SH: You know, because it’s Oscarwatch, I have to mention that I don’t think any other couple has ever been nominated before.
MW: Yeah, somebody asked me about that recently, if I knew if that was any kind of fact, or record. I can’t think of anybody.
SH: I don’t think so either. Maybe people got nominated in the different years. But never for playing opposite each other.
MW: Never in the same year, and for the same movie.
SH: So you’ve made history, too.
MW: I know. The whole thing is pretty serendipitous.
SH: Well, it’s a great love story and the movie’s a great love story, so—
MW: So it’s only fitting.
SH: Right. Right. So the day I saw you, it was the following Monday and Tuesday when all the critics awards came out, so your whole life must have changed since I last saw you? The film hadn’t really opened I think even when I interviewed you?
MW: No. It hadn’t. Only select groups of people had seen it thus far.
SH: I saw it in Toronto where everyone was going beserk. (MICHELLE laughs) But how has, my god, all this recognition, and all the attention and the nomination and all changed things?
MW: Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t change our immediate, personal, mundane, day-to-day life outside of our careers. Nothing’s different. We’re the still same people, and we feel the same way about ourselves, and each other, but career-wise, y’know, all of a sudden! All of the offers!
That’s the most exciting thing to watch happen after being nominated for awards like these is that your work opportunities increase, and they just get better. You get more opportunities to do the thing that you love, and that’s really the greatest reward.
SH: I’m from the Bronx myself, so I just think it’s great that you and Heath have chosen to live in Brooklyn. I think that’s wonderful.
MW: We just adore it. And so many people say that, and “How can you stand to live in a boro?”and think that —
SH: There are very beautiful spots in Brooklyn.
MW: Oh god! We think so! I don’t feel like we live in a substandard environment.
SH: (laughs) And I’m sure you don’t.
MW: People are so surprised that we wouldn’t want to live in the center of Manhattan.
SH: Well, you’re from Montana, and there’s a kind of balance in Brooklyn, between the city and — I mean, you want to see the sky, I’m sure.
MW: Yeah, I realized I was homesick for space. Homesick for sky. I was so claustrophobic in Manhattan, so caught up in Manhattan. I had no conception of Brooklyn. And it blew my mind, when I took my first subway ride, and I walked out, and there was air!
SH: We should talk about “Brokeback”. I went back to see the film again, and I just read the screenplay. I couldn’t put it down. I have to tell you this, Michelle. I went to see it at 10 o’clock on a Friday night in Times Square, totally straight kids, teenagers, who are usually very noisy. They were totally quieted by the movie. I couldn’t believe it! And this was a straight audience, to say the least. I was floored! It was reaching people I never dreamed it could possibly reach. And anyway, when I saw it again, I was really looking at your performance, because I knew I was going to be talking to you, and there wasn’t one false moment with Alma.
MW: Thank you.
SH: Of course, the scene where you look out the door and you what you see. It’s just unforgettable. And you see Jack and Ennis kissing. And then, and I didn’t notice this the first time, you made this incredible choice, you ran to your purse.
SH: And you started going through your purse!
MW: You’re the first person to ask me about that! I know!
SH: That was your choice, wasn’t it?
MW: Yeah, yeah, it was.
SH: It was brilliant! It was like “What is she looking for? Where is she going? How can she –?” Like there was no way out. It was so right for the character and was a really brilliant touch, I thought.
MW: Thank you so much. I’m really pleased that you saw that.
SH: Had you decided to do that? Was that planned? Or did it just happen?
MW: It was somewhere in the back of my head. I never said it out loud, or talked to Ang about wanting to do it, or what he thought of it. I just had kind of a vague wisp of an idea about it. Just about how to physicalize a moment of total vertigo. I think that her feet really weren’t on the floor anymore. I’ve had moments like those, where you just start reaching for something that’s ordinary, something that you do everyday, something to ground you. And somewhere to put –– She couldn’t – Y’know, how was she going to really look at her husband? She needed something that was her own. I think there was safety and I think there was history and there was an identity in her purse. It was like reaching for a talisman.
SH: And then she closes it(her handbag), and puts it on! Like it’s her only defense against what she’s just seen.
MW: Like she has something. Like she has something in the world that’s her own.
SH: My mother would’ve done something like that.
MW: So would’ve mine.
SH: It was such a feminine thing. And just so right. And, y’know, we’re all the audience –I mean, I’m gay, obviously- but I mean, I was like rooting for you at that point! You know? You totally made everyone see Jack and Ennis from HER point of view. Because, you are the audience. You’re the character the audience goes through this with, I feel. Most of the straight audience can understand you totally. If they don’t understand the men, they’ll totally understand you. Alma, I should say, the character.
MW: Right. Right.
SH: And then, there was the scene where they come back, I think. And there’s a cut .There’s a shot of you, and your face looked disfigured with crying. Like you had been crying for days, or hours. It was not she’d just recently cried, it was that she couldn’t stop. It was like your features had moved to different places on your face.
MW: I think that kind of transmutation is entirely possible. I’ve seen that happen myself. I’ve seen that happen in friends. I think that you can feel things internally that manifest themselves externally. And I think that she had been crying non-stop since he left. I mean, wailing and throwing herself at the furniture and all that stuff. I think you’re absolutely right. I think she is disfigured by the end of the film.
SH: Well, she doesn’t look like she does when we first see her as the innocent bride.
SH: When you first got the script, when your agent brought it to you, did you just get Alma’s sides(scenes) or did you get the whole script?
MW: I got the whole script, though, at times, it felt like I was just reading Alma’s sides, because my heart went out to her first, completely. I only had eyes for her.
SH: And you immediately wanted to do it?
MW: Oh, immediately.
SH: It’s a beautiful script. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a brilliantly written screenplay.
MW: Isn’t it though?
SH: And Diana (Ossana) and Larry (McMurty,the authors)! What a great job they did! I mean, oh please! Because I knew I was going to be talking to you, I went back and watched “Hud.” Have you seen that?
MW: You know what, not in a long – What’s the actress’s name in that film?
SH: Patricia Neal.
MW: Patricia Neal. That’s right. I was trying to think of her name.
SH: Alma. Her character’s name is also named Alma.
MW: Oh, right! Of course she is!
SH: And she won the Oscar for Best Actress for that film in 1963, the year “Brokeback” is set. Here at Oscarwatch, we try to make all the Oscar connections.
MW: Oh! Ohhh! Wouldn’t that be sweet?
SH: Well, Larry McMurtry, everytime he does something, all these people win Oscars. Melvyn Douglas got a Supporting Actor Oscar, also for “Hud.” (Based on a Mc Murtry novel, “Horseman, Pass By”). And Patricia Neal won Best Actress for “Hud.” And then in “The Last Picture Show” it was Cloris Leachman, in that wonderful part, and Ben Johnson in 1971, both won for Supporting. (McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Bogdanovich, based on his novel of the same name. McMurtry and Ossana are also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. McMurtry has never won an Oscar.) So the characters are very, very, very well written. Of course, it’s very interesting, Alma Del Marr is very much in the story (by Annie Proulx). Did you read the story subsequently?
MW: I did. After I read the script.
SH: Because my god, is that a beautiful story!
MW: Oh, I know. You know, that was a lot of my preparation for the film was reading that collection of short stories. (“Close Range” by Annie Proulx) I started actually reading it about a month before filming began, and a couple of stories into the collection, I knew I had to put it down, because the world was so intoxicating and so effective that I wanted to save it for while we were shooting, because I felt transported immediately. But as far as the screenplay, you know, it’s astonishing that it was adapted from a short story. You know you feel it’s so flawless that it must have come from a novel. You can underestimate exactly how much work Larry and Diana put into. These characters are so alive and so real to them. They took every word. Every word was precious and necessary.
SH: Well, I think what Annie Proulx did, it’s part of modern times, where everything in our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Everything is compressed. The short story read to me like a novel. Like she’d taken a novel and just stripped it to the absolutely bare minimum of its elements. Like there was not one spare sentence in it, which is like actually the best kind of writing to adapt to a film, because it’s so efficient. Because the scenes in movies are so brief.
SH: And you have to make this impact.
MW: Right, right. In three pages or something.
SH: And you also had this wonderful thing I noticed when the jars all fell over in the store, you got to see that she had an inner resolve. That she was going to make the best out of whatever it was, and that she had a way of righting things. I mean, correcting things.
MW: She is a survivor.
SH: Yes, yes, that’s why you love her.
MW: You know I think that it changes her irrevocably, and for the worse, what she endured. I don’t think that she was able to understand or appreciate the love that the two men had. I think that it just turned her cold, and it turned her bitter, but she did pull through enough to be able to live in the world, to work in the world, to meet another man, to consent to marrying him, however for convenience sake that might have been. But she continues to exist.
SH: She seemed to have made a better choice with the second husband.
MW: She made a better choice in that he wasn’t in love with somebody else, but I think she made a safer choice. I don’t think– it wasn’t a marriage of great passion, or intensity. I think that she knew that she would never be exposed again in that way. I doubt that she even spoke of what her previous marriage (with Ennis) had been like with Munroe(her second husband). I doubt that she told him what was really going on. I think that it shamed her too greatly. I think it challenged her womanhood too intensely.
SH: Right. And it all boils out in that scene in the kitchen, years later after the marriage, when they’re divorced, in that incredible scene in the kitchen. I know Anne Hathaway said, “How are you ever going to say that line ‘Jack Nasty’?” But –(MICHELLE laughs) – That’s a famous line now.
MW: I know. Isn’t it? I know. People like to tease me about it.
SH: Well, y’know, something, Michelle, when the characters name go into the vocabulary, and that you’re not talking about “Oh, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal…” You’re talking about Ennis Del Mar, and Alma, and Jack Twist. That means that’s the highest level of cinema greatness is when the characters become part of the world’s vocabulary.
MW: You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. Wow…I’m going to pass that on to Heath. You’re absolutely right. That certainly happened with Ennis Del Mar.
SH: I know that name, it just resonates.
MW: It’s come to mean so much.
SH: Does that mean “Island in the sea” in Spanish?
MW: I think Ennis means “island” and Alma means…
SH: Alma means “soul.”
MW: Alma means “soul.” That’s right. Thank you.
SH: That’s from-
BOTH: Tennessee Williams! (Both laugh)
SH: That’s from “Smoke and Smoke.” Oh, I know you’ll play all those great roles some day.
MW: I would so love to play a Tennesse Williams play.
SH: Well, this woman was like a Tennessee Williams character, in that she was regional. She was in great conflict, but she had this modern edge. She survived. She got out of it. Blanche (du Bois of “Streetcar Named Desire”) doesn’t survive.
MW: In contrast to a Tennessee Williams character.
Correct. Absolutely correct. Oh, this was fun!
SH: Oh, I’m glad! I could talk to you for the rest of my life! Maybe I’d be lucky enough to do that. Oh! And so for the Oscars, do you know what you’re wearing yet?
MW: I have no idea. (SH laughs) I haven’t seen anything. Thought of anything. Touched anything. I have no idea.
SH: I know for the Golden Globe awards you said that beautiful, purple gown, the dress was too small, that you didn’t try it on soon enough?
MW: That won’t be happening again.
SH: Let me tell you as an Oscarologist, there’s a history of the Academy of awarding the Supporting Actress Award to the actress who is in the Big Film. Juliette Binoche in “The English Patient”, Cate Blanchette in “The Aviator,” which was nominated for Best Picture. So you have a very good chance of being up on that stage. Do you know what you’re going to say?
MW: Oh, I don’t know about that. I really– I don’t.
SH: Well, you gotta work these things out before hand because you get to that moment and it’s like “Oh my god!”(BOTH laugh) They expect you — Frances McDormand said she saw it as an improvisation. She said, “There’s this bare stage and you’re supposed to get up there and do something for five minutes. You know, fill the space.” I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably totally break down crying and thank my mother. Who’s dead. But I anyway, I don’t know what I’d do. It’s been such a delight speaking to you, Michelle!
MW: Likewise. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. It’s really nice.
SH: I hope you win! Is there something perhaps you’d like to say in conclusion that hasn’t been brought up in all these interviews you’ve done about “Brokeback” that you would like to say as a final word to–?
MW: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.
SH: That you would like people to remember?
MW: I mean, I feel like my greatest goal is for people to walk away from the film, and to feel less alone in the world.
SH: Yeah, that’s what you’ve done. That’s what you’ve done. Wow…wow…It’s a miracle. Any great film is a miracle…
MW: That’s what I hope for. I hope that they see themselves. They see themselves no matter if it’s gay, no matter if it’s cowboy, no matter if it’s fifty years ago.
SH: There are very few films that change things, and “Brokeback” there’s the film, and then there’s the social impact that it’s had.
SH: And I’m just going to tell you in closing that I’ve been Out in the media since forever. I was one of the first Out actors in America.
SH: And for 18 years I’ve had this show and I’m out on it, and it’s always been that I was “too gay.” But now, suddenly, because of “Brokeback”, I’m not too gay. I’m just right.
MW: And guess what? YOU’ve never changed!
SH: That’s right. That’s right!(Both Laugh)