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.
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."
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