Back in December, Anne Thompson caught up with Michelle Williams shortly following the announcement that she nabbed a Best Actress Spirit Awards nomination for her work in Derek Cianfrance’s breakup drama “Blue Valentine.” Williams has since gone on to garner an Oscar nomination in the same department.
Among the topics Thompson covered with Williams: Cianfrance’s unique working style; acting opposite “Blue Valentine” co-star Ryan Gosling; channeling Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming biopic “My Week with Marilyn; and working with director Sarah Polley on “Take This Waltz.”
Click here to watch the full video interview. Below are snippets from the chat.
How was Derek Cianfrance’s working style?
The way that we worked on this movie was unlike anything I’ve ever experience before and probably unlike anything I’ll ever experience again. Every time I work on another movie, I call Derek and I say I wish I could do it all again knowing what I know now. It was the way I always dreamed of working, but I never dreamed I could do, because it takes time and time is money.
[Ryan and I] needed time to build up the toxicity in the relationship. Derek bought us time. They rented us a house and we would go there to rehearse. Well it wasn’t really a rehearsal, it was in-habitation. We made a budget, we went grocery shopping, we had our portraits taken at a Sears portrait studio, we cooked dinners, we baked cakes, we made home movies. And we learned how to fight. That was something that wasn’t coming very naturally to Ryan or myself.
Now this reminds me of the kind of work Mike Leigh would do. Do you have an admiration for that whole process?
I would love, love, to be a part of that. I got to work on a Mike Leigh play when I was 21. I did this play called “Smelling a Rat.” The thing is like a web; every word, every sentence is connected to something else.
I had a taste for it because I knew what it was like to work on the Mike Leigh thing. So I’d always kind of desired to work that way. I’ve always wanted to be in a troupe of actors. I like the idea of family, of repeat business, the idea that you don’t exhaust yourself on a play or movie and then just go on to the next one.
Congratulations on your Spirit Award nomination! You must have felt pretty weird getting nominated, with Ryan left out of the race.
I don’t know quite how to feel about that. Anything that’s of any value in my performance is because of who I had to respond to. He is an uncommon man and an uncommon actor. Yeah, he’s the tops.
Are women directors different from men directors?
If it’s different, it’s different to me. It’s about how I shall receive a man versus a woman. I’ve had good experiences with both sexes. I certainly enjoy that there’s a healthy balance in my career of working with women. I think what Kelly [Reichardt, director of “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy & Lucy”] and I have going for us right now is that we’ve made two movies together and we’re friends. So we’re onto each other.
Channeling Marilyn – that’s an enormous challenge. Did you say to yourself, “Am I crazy? Am I nuts?”
I said that to myself afterwords. I said, “Oh, you know why nobody’s ever played Marilyn Monroe before. Because nobody’s as stupid as me, to take on an icon.”
I find myself saying this all the time during every movie I make, “Why is this is so hard.” And I realize yes it is. Every movie I make I find kind of excruciating. I get a lot back from it, but I feel like I’m kind of always working at the edge of my ability.
I guess that’s what I’m looking for when I go to work. I am trying to become the edge.
And Sarah Polley, did she offer that as well?
Yeah. The degree of difficulty was excruciating. I don’t mean that I don’t like it, or that it’s any harder than life. Acting and life are the same thing. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easy. And Sarah Polley offered me that and then a whole lot more.
What made that so difficult?
They’re all difficult, because my standards are high.