Fans of Michelle Williams, the ones who've followed her career from the over-articulate rants of "Dawson's Creek" to her Oscar-nominated performance in "My Week With Marilyn," want to believe the actress is like so many of the roles she chooses: intelligent, thoughtful, soft-spoken and sensitive.
Rest easy, everyone. She is.
It helps that she's clearly in love with her new movie "Take This Waltz;" when we met to discuss the astute relationship drama co-starring Seth Rogen, Williams had plenty to say about growing up, settling down and learning that "nice guys" aren't always the prize they're supposed to be.
A lot of women are going to recognize themselves in "Take This Waltz." We've all been raised on the premise that men want sex all the time and it's up to us to decide when — and your character, Margot, isn't the only 20-something woman to realize that's not always true in long-term relationships. It's a reality that doesn't show up in movies very often.
I think, in the beginning, [writer/director] Sarah [Polley] was going to set it up in the more conventional way and then talked to a bunch of her friends. The information that she kept getting back was the opposite.
Did you realize you were making a movie about something more than one woman's story?
I did. I felt like I passed Margot on the street 20 times a day. I saw her everywhere. I saw her in her 20s, in her 40s, in our costume designer, I kind of thought that was sort of what Margot was gonna be like when she grows up. I saw a lot of Margots ... That's not an offensive thing to say about our costume designer — I mean it in a good way.
That's the point, right, to be a relatable character?
I think so, yeah.
I like coming to cities because I like the multiple storylines there. I like that look on everybody's face that they're sort of in the middle of something. I'm always so much more interested by the people that I see on the street or in the subway than by any kind of person of, like, elevated stature, you know, some sort of celebrity or something.
I was in that transitional phase, too. Realizing that you are crossing some kind of threshold that people told you was going to be great, and you'll feel settled and confident and comfortable, and you're going to know yourself more, but you can't really imagine it. So you feel like a mess, and you're still very unsure of the decisions that you're making. But you feel like you're making big decisions that are going to affect the rest of your life and you're going to have to stick by for the rest of your life. When I looked around my circle of friends, that's what I saw, this moment of big decisions and a lot of indecision.
I was interested in that moment. I think 28, 29 feels very different from 30, 31. I feel like a decision that I make today, I could probably stand behind.
You used the word settled — there's an interesting dichotomy in the movie between the concepts of being settled and settling. Margot heads down a path in her marriage while addressing that dichotomy; do you think we're meant to feel one way or the other about her choices?
Not at all. I feel, I hope, I don't think that the movie paints anyone as a villain or as a victor. I hope that you can see both sides for every person that's involved. Something that I find really interesting about it that I heard with this movie and that I heard with "Blue Valentine" — actually maybe more from women than from men, "What is the matter with your character? Why is she leaving such a good guy?"
There's this idea that good or nice is all you should hope for, that that's kind of enough. And if you get that, hang onto it. That sounds to me like settling versus settled. If you're going to pick a person to spend the rest of your life with, you should be allowed to pinpoint ... finer qualities you would hope for. When you pick somebody to be a partner with, you're going to grow into them, and they're going to grow into you, and they're going to influence the person you become. I don't know where along the line nice and good got to be so exceptional in a man.
It should be base line, right?
It should be base line, yeah.
You gravitate toward drama in your career, and the aspects of life that are interesting in a drama are often pretty dark. You spend much longer immersed in the experience of your movies than we do, as the audience. Does that ever color your ability to be optimistic?
I feel like it actually might boomerang me into a direction of being more optimistic. My tendencies or my interests in that more complicated or certainly darker view of things, it gets purged through my work. It's really expressed, and then I'm left with this profusion of optimism and joy and goofiness, so I feel like it actually… it's a nice place to go and put that stuff.
It's been a long time since you've done a comedy. Would you ever do it again?
Yeah, I really enjoy it, but I also recognize that it's an art and not something that I spent my life studying or thinking about in the way that other people have. I don't know. So I am interested. The last movie that I did, "Oz," is very light, and I certainly hope I have the elements of comedy.
Also, you don't read a lot of comedies that approach women like you might want to be approached. To not be diminished or stereotyped or something, so … so …
That's why you should do more, so you can be a female in comedy who's not diminished! It's kind of de rigeur these days for actors to do a sweeping fantasy movie. What made "Oz: The Great and Powerful" the one for you?
I really wanted to make something that my daughter could see and to be involved in the process of it. It would be fun for both of us and would mix my work and my life better than other things I've done recently. And something that she could see, something she could get excited about, something that she could understand where I was going, and a happy place for her to come visit on set.
And Sam Raimi, the last living gentleman. He is such a dear. He's collaborative when he talks, when he gives direction. First of all, he asks for anybody's opinion, no matter how high or low you think you might be on the totem pole. He wants to know what you think of something. He values everybody's role in bringing this movie to life.
Also check out this interview with director Sarah Polley on Film.com.