Michelle Williams: a slow burn to becoming Marilyn

on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 16:13
Michelle Williams has gone from bad-girl on the creek to fully-fledged Hollywood starlet, and here we attempt to count the reasons we love her
By all rights, this should be Michelle Williams’ year. Twice nominated for roles in Brokeback Mountain and last year’s Blue Valentine, her turn as iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming My Week With Marilyn is sure to gain her even more plaudits, and a possible best actress Oscar is certainly on the horizon. But Williams has never courted mainstream success like some of her counterparts, and her post-Dawson’s Creek work has travelled largely under the radar until now.
She won the much sought-after role ahead of better-known actresses Amy Adams and Kate Hudson so, what is it about the 31-year-old actress that’s catching everyone’s eye? Her turn in Marilyn has received praise across the board, and big things will surely be coming her way before long. Before they do, we want to take a look at the many reasons we already love her, and what sets her apart from the bustling crowd of young Hollywood actresses…

We grew up with her...
Before the movies came the hugely popular WB series Dawson’s Creek, a post-Buffy teen drama that wore its heart on its sleeve and its pop culture referencing like a badge of honour. The four leads included Williams, James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson, and there’s no competition for who has achieved the most success since their 2003 finale episode. Katie Holmes may have moved into movies, but she’s never quite stepped out from under Joey Potter’s shadow.
Williams’ Jen Lindley was the highlight of the show also, offering the same wounded independence to the troubled teen as she now lends to her filmic roles. She hasn’t shunned her humble beginnings either, appreciating that the success of Creek may have allowed her to choose roles based on interest and desire, rather than finance or visibility. It may not have been great art, but everyone has to start somewhere.

She only chooses films she’s passionate about…
Have you ever seen a half-arsed performance from Williams? No? Well that’s probably because she only chooses roles
she thinks are worth taking on, and her performances always shine a little bit brighter because of it. She has a unique ability to generate chemistry with her co-stars (probably not all her doing), making two-handers like the wonderful Blue Valentine a little more like watching a real-life couple, rather than two actors pretending not to hate each other for two hours.
Initially, she thought herself wrong for the part of Monroe, and turned down the role. Her first instinct has now been effectively proven false, but this tentativeness is one of the things we love her for. With a lot of actresses seemingly taking any part that’s thrown at them, Williams chooses more carefully, and has no problems retreating to the less high-profile indie world until the right big-budget part comes her way.

She’s doesn’t always take the glamorous part…
She might now be playing a woman considered one of the most beautiful and glamorous of all time, and there’s no doubt that Williams herself is a bit of a looker, but she doesn’t always look the part on screen. While most of her peers still manage to look like models when playing down-trodden housewives or waitresses, it’s clear that Williams doesn’t always go for the obvious part prescribed to her blonde hair and striking features, but opts for the role she finds most challenging.
So used are we to watching her performance rather than her appearance, it’s actually a surprise to see her glam up for Marilyn, and when Ryan Gosling’s character in Blue Valentine tells her ‘girls that look like you don’t study medicine, they’re models’ it’s a shock to the system. Despite the great performance, would Alma in Brokeback Mountain have been so believable a character had they painted her face with makeup and kept her blonde locks? I don’t think so, somehow.

She’s really good at being sad…

It’s uncommon to find an actress that can really make us laugh, but even more rare are the one’s that can make us cry. Williams is one of those actresses, offering all of herself to each role in a way that instantly lights up whatever film she’s in. In her best performances, there’s never a sense that she’s acting at all, but literally baring her soul to the audience, unaware of the effect she may have on those that see it.

This quality is a rare and precious thing for an actress to possess, with other modern equivalents including performers like Carey Mulligan or Kate Winslet, both actresses who aren’t afraid of a tear-streaked shot. When Williams is on top form, which she usually is, the audience feel what she feels, experience what she experiences, and live what she goes through. She may never be a comedy star, but she does sad better than anyone else.

She’s still an indie darling…
With the notoriety given to most TV stars after they’re let loose on the movie industry, Williams was offered various parts once Dawson’s Creek was over, only to turn most of them down. Intent on only taking part in things because she wants to, rather than out of desperation, the actress quickly became fed up with the ‘pop tart’ (her words, not ours) roles coming out of the woodwork, and opted to go down the indie route that her former co-star Katie Holmes so resolutely avoided.
It was here, in films that barely anyone saw but were almost always critically applauded, that she cemented her place in the industry and proved her considerable chops beyond the small screen. Wendy and Lucy, a film about a drifter and her faithful canine companion, was probably the best example of this experiment, as it was a solo performance that carried an extremely well received and regarded indie effort. This indie sensibility continues to this day, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s where she returns post-Marilyn.