Michelle Williams has starred in her share of tearjerkers. There’s Brokeback Mountain, of course, starring her late partner Heath Ledger, and Blue Valentine, costarring a brooding Ryan Gosling. And this year, she went the extra mile for one of the year’s most poignant films, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, for which she was nominated for her fourth Academy Award. (Notably, Gosling is also up for an Oscar this year, though in a musical, La La Land.) When she’s working, Williams is a committed researcher, an actress who spent months traveling to Manchester, Massachusetts to seep in the local culture in preparation for the role. In her time off, however, the last thing Williams wants to do is watch a sad movie. “Only like old romantic comedies, musicals for us from now on,” she says in a new interview with W. Perhaps she should give Gosling’s acclaimed musical a chance? Or, better yet, as a former Broadway star herself, she should hoof on over to the Hudson Theater to watch her old Brokeback co-star Jake Gyllenhaal give it his all in Sunday in the Park with George. A warning, though: “Move On” is a kind of a sad song, too.
Let’s talk about “Manchester by the Sea.” How did that come about in your life? Manchester came about because I’d known Kenny [Lonergan] for a long time, ten years. He had asked me to do a reading of one of his plays when I was pregnant and I said no I couldn’t do it because I wouldn’t be very good because I was pregnant. But really I was just so nervous to work with him and I didn’t want to disappoint him in any way, so I didn’t even really want to try. And he was like, ‘That’s ridiculous, like you’re pregnant, that doesn’t affect your acting skills.’ So I waddled in there and read a play, which was called Strings. I don’t know what it wound up being. And then I had seen You Can Count on Me and then I saw Margaret, and you know I wanted to be one of his people; I wanted to be a person in his world.
Did you go up to Manchester itself and spend time there? I spent a lot more time there, more kind of sleuthing around than I actually spent filming. I spent an inordinate amount of time up there. I would just take a train and go up and I would spend a couple days and I would talk to people. I would sit next to people; I would stop people on the street and ask them like where they shopped or where they got their earrings. I wound up going over to somebody’s house, and then I invited myself over for coffee in the morning because somebody told me like, ‘Oh I got this friend, you have to talk to her. She’s from this exact area; she has four children.’ So I wound up like having coffee in this person’s house and playing with their kids and talking to her about her life and her husband and her children and just listening to her and watching her. And I got so much. What I really saw from being in that area is that the men and the women have a kind of rough verbal play that I don’t really notice anywhere else that I found very, very, very specific to the area. And I would go to the bars a lot. There is this one bar, oh god, what was that horrible sign that they had? It’s something like about how touching isn’t a crime, it’s a pleasure. You know I can’t remember, but like a pretty not-nice bar. There were just as many women there, girls there with their girlfriends drinking beer and playing pool, shooting darts. Like girls will be boys, that’s what I saw in this specific area.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
That’s so interesting, because you do bring that to the character. Do you generally see your films, or do you not like watch yourself? Really in the last three years, I’ve done two plays and played two very small parts in two very small films, this and Certain Women by Kelly Reichardt. And so I’ve had a three-year break from looking at myself and from being aware of my face and my body in a certain way. Like my awareness of myself has expanded in a way; I feel like I’m less disembodied. I feel like I’m a whole body. On a stage, you want to carry something through your whole body. And very often in a film you’re kind of like guillotined up there. And so I just wasn’t in the practice of watching myself and of being critical about the way that I looked. And I really enjoyed that break. It really it was very nice for me to not think kind of from here on up, so I haven’t been quick to go see these films because I’m just out of practice.
You should go see it because I don’t think it’d be hard for you to watch, let’s put it that way. And you and Casey Affleck. I know, and I am gonna see it. And also everybody else’s performance. Yeah, it’s gonna be sad. But I also don’t feel the need to denigrate myself nor to glorify myself. It’s just like how much did I grow here. And I knew when I got to Manchester, I’d just done a year on Cabaret, and it just almost killed me; it was the hardest work of my life. It really ran me into the ground. But when I got to Manchester, I felt the growth. And so that’s all that I need from it. I want to watch it for Kenny. I want to watch it for Casey. I want to watch it for Lucas [Hedges}. And I will; I’m just waiting for the right time.
What movie makes you cry? Cartoons. I can’t watch kids’ movies because they always kill the funny one.I’m thinking specifically of this movie The Princess and the Frog. It’s in the bayou and she wants to be a cook and she wants to open her own restaurant, but she’s too poor. And she helps sew dresses for a spoiled little rich girl, but the guy falls in love with her. But there’s this like little magical firefly thing, and it’s her best friend and it’s funny, and they kill it. And I saw it with my daughter and with my best friend, and she was in between us and we were both clutching hands trying to not let her hear how much we were crying. [Laughs] Why does somebody always have to die in a kids’ movie? Why? Or Inside Out. What are they doing to the kids? Why does somebody always have to die in a children’s movie? Why does it have to be that way? Why does it have to be so sad? Only like old romantic comedies, musicals for us from now on. I don’t want to be sad.”
21 of Michelle Williams’ Best Hair Moments: From Long Hair to Short Hair
Michelle Williams went super short, and super platinum, at the 2017 Oscars.
At the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Williams wore her pixie cut softly tousled with a bold eye.
Back to platinum blonde, Michelle Williams’s short hair is worn extra sleek style to accentuate her creamy, porcelain skin at the 2016 New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
For the 70th Annual Tony Awards, the actress returned to her beloved pixie cut, and added a bold red lip for some extra drama.
With a wavy blonde lob, wispy bangs, and bold black eyeliner, Williams was a rock and roll beauty at the 2015 InStyle Awards.
At the Louis Vuitton “Series 2” Exhibition, Williams wore her platinum locks in a deep side part with a dusted pink lip.
The gorgeous actress looked sleek and chic at the ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion’ Met Gala with a new platinum bob and bangs.
Williams’s luminous skin and platinum blonde locks looked fresh and natural at the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris.
Williams had an edgy look at the Los Angeles premiere of OZ The Great and Powerful, thanks to bold eyeliner, a lighter hair color, and an asymmetrical cut.
Could she be any cuter? The actress accessorized her pixie cut with a black velvet and jeweled headband for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
At the Take This Waltz screening in New York City, Williams wore her pixie cut with brushed out bangs and a glossy coral lip.
Williams returned to the pixie, and added a new strawberry blond color, for a screening of her film, ‘My Week with Marilyn’.
Williams wore her long locks in a softly tousled pony for the Shutter Island premiere at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival.
Williams grew out her short pixie cut for the 2009 Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, and styled her new locks with a deep, side-swept fringe.
Williams wore her blonde locks in a S-wave do with a glossy rose-colored lip at the at the 61st International Cannes Film Festival Adoration premiere.
Williams debuted a chic, short pixie cut that accentuated her delicate features at the 22nd Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Williams returned to her blonde roots at the 78th Annual Academy Awards, where she was nominated for best supporting actress.
Surprise, she’s a brunette! While attending the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures 2003 Annual Gala, Williams sported a messy bob with a long fringe.
Williams accentuated her stunning green eyes with brown eyeliner, highlighted skin and wispy bangs while attending the celebration for the 100th episode of Dawson’s Creek.
At the 6th Annual Blockbuster Awards, Michelle Williams epitomized the girl next door look with mid-length wavy curls, rosy cheeks and glossy pink lips.
The budding actress arrived at the Halloween H20 World Premiere with very natural makeup, and curled, dark blond hair.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Amy Adams, and More Stars of the Year’s Best Films Get Really, Really Into “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Amy Adams, and More Stars of the Year’s Best Films Get Really, Really Into “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor