‘Fosse/Verdon’ Inspired Steven Spielberg to Cast Michelle Williams in ‘The Fabelmans’

The director said that Williams' "secret energy" in the FX miniseries convinced him that she was the right choice to play his mother.
FOSSE/VERDON, (aka FOSSE / VERDON), center from left: Sam Rockwell (as Bob Fosse), Michelle Williams (as Gwen Verdon), 'Who's Got The Pain?', (Season 1, ep. 102, airs April 16, 2019). photo: Eric Liebowitz / ©FX / Courtesy: Everett Collection
©FX Networks/Courtesy:Everett Collection / Everett Collection

A lead role in a new Steven Spielberg movie is always going to be a coveted job in Hollywood. But the casting process for his latest work, “The Fabelmans,” was a particularly high stakes affair, given that the legendary director was looking for actors to embody his own family in the most personal film of his career.

A new story in the New York Times sheds light on the events that led Spielberg to cast Michelle Williams as Mitzi Fabelman, a thinly-veiled version of his mother. The three-time Oscar winner, who previously praised Williams’ work in “Blue Valentine,” said that he was initially inspired to give her the part after watching her in the FX miniseries “Fosse/Verdon.”

“She has a secret energy that poured from her when she played Gwen Verdon,” Spielberg said. “That went a long way into making her my first choice to play Mitzi.”

Williams says that she was enthralled by the opportunity from the moment she started reading the script, which Spielberg co-wrote with Tony Kushner.

“I couldn’t believe it when I started turning pages in this script,” Williams said. “My husband was in the room with me, and I kept saying, ‘It’s just getting better.’ Very often when you have a script, you have a great scene and you think, ‘Oh, that’s going to be splashy.’ And this was just page after page of that, just this undulating, gorgeous aliveness. When I finished, I said to my husband, ‘It’s a feast. They made her a feast.'”

The actress said that the literary density of the material made the experience more comparable to working in theatre or television than a typical Hollywood film.

“It took me a long time to wrap my head around the material because the words and ideas are classic Kushner, through the lens of Steven Spielberg,” she said. “So it’s filmic and it’s theatrical, which is something that really interests me and I’ve been purposefully concentrating on since I started doing theater again. I prep a lot before a movie, and there was so much to grab hold of. It felt more akin to making a mini-series because the material was so rich.”

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