Tag Archives: Michelle Williams

Williams Shines in ‘My Week With Marilyn’

Brought to you by the Weinstein Company, the same people behind the lauded, if not necessarily lively, “The King’s Speech,” “My Week With Marilyn” is adapted from the memoirs of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). Clark, in his youth, hustled his way into a job with Sir Laurence Olivier‘s production company just as Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) was preparing to direct “The Prince and the Showgirl,” starring Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) as his leading lady. Clark had a view from the inside as Olivier and Monroe clashed and collaborated, raged and retreated, their styles and personalities clashing. And when Marilyn needed a friend — and, perhaps, the burst of energy that comes from adoration viewed through new eyes — she made Colin her confidant.

Directed by Simon Curtis, a TV director making the jump to the big screen with a film that will play far better on TV than in the theater, “My Week With Marilyn” features one great performance and one amusing one. Williams, as Monroe, isn’t engaged in mere mimicry of Monroe’s public persona and performances, but also trying to get at something deeper, and something richer, behind the icon. Branagh’s Olivier is more a vocal performance than a physical one, clipped consonants and aspirated “S” sounds, the kind of ham who quotes “Othello” when he’s upset. (Branagh’s performance, unlike Williams’, is more caricature than character, but it’s a fun caricature.)

Search: See photos of Michelle Williams | See photos of Marilyn Monroe

Written by Adrian Hodges from Clark’s book, the film is a great demonstration of how a short time scale — instead of the womb-to-tomb approach of a biopic like “Ray” or “J. Edgar” — can often make for a far better film. You don’t need to know about Monroe’s other marriages to see how she clings to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott); you don’t need to know about her career insecurities to see how she leans on her “Method” acting instructor, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker). And when she guiltlessly, guilelessly and reflexively seduces Colin, you know everything you need to about how, for some people, the longtime understanding of a friend is less nourishing than the freshly minted adoration of a could-be lover.

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Interview: Producer/Executive Harvey Weinstein of ‘My Week with Marilyn’

When you’re told a producer on a film is doing press, that’s one thing; when you’re told that the producer — Harvey Weinstein, a man whose professional and personal history has become inextricably intertwined with that of American film — is doing press, that’s another story. we spoke with Weinstein by phone about “My Week with Marilyn,” that film’s star Michelle Williams and the ups and downs of the Oscar race.

I’m curious about the genesis of projects. Mr. Clark’s book (recounting his time in the ’60s as an Assistant Director for Lawrence Olivier while Olivier shot ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ with Monroe) has been out for a bit, certainly. I’m wondering what’s exactly the spark that turns that conception into a film.

Weinstein: I read the book in the ‘ 90s when it first came out … and the idea came to Simon Curtis, our director, and Adrian Hodges, the writer. They found a way of doing it, a way of telling the story and really concentrating on the romance of (Monroe and) a twenty-three year old boy, and she back with him. When Arthur Miller, her husband, leaves and the only time she traveled to England, the story is a fairytale. They came at it as a snapshot in their life, not a biography from cradle to grave, and they said ‘Let’s make it funny. Let’s make it charming. Let’s make it entertaining. Let’s make it enchanting.’ Every time I do a movie like ‘Finding Neverland’ or ‘Chocolat’ or ‘Shakespeare’ in Love,’ we deal with the creative process, but there’s humor and fun along the way. I always love that kind of movie. Then they said the two most magic words ‘Michelle Williams,’ who I was finishing ‘Blue Valentine’ with, and I then I said ‘I’m in,’ and we were off to the races.

Is it fun to say ‘Hey you were just trapped in a horrible marriage with Ryan Gosling, and now we’re going to give you the challenge of portraying one of the most beautiful icons of the 20th century?’

Weinstein: Well, I think Simon had that idea, and he got her to say yes. I will tell you I do snap my fingers and Judi Dench runs when I say ‘run’ as she should … he said kiddingly. Before I got around to her, Judi had a huge career on stage and on English television, but I really loved her so much I put her in one movie after another, and she always got nominated for an Oscar. Hopefully this year will be no exception. I did snap my fingers and say, ‘Let’s get Judi.’ I also thought Emma Watson would be charming in the role as Lucy. I needed a girl who was beautiful and also had a backbone. I wish it was as easy as Vincente Minnelli made it look in ‘Bad and the Beautiful’ or as great as Kirk Douglas was.

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TIFF ‘11 Review: Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz Has Insights And Edges Sharp Enough To Stab [A]

In Sarah Polley’s Toronto-set drama “Take this Waltz,” Margo (Michelle Williams) stumbles across Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, only to find he lives across the street; despite being married to Lou (Seth Rogen), Margo can’t stop thinking of Daniel. Or maybe it’s because she’s married to Lou that she can’t stop thinking of Daniel … Following up “Away from Her,” Polley’s second film is sharply dividing critics and audience in Toronto:  Many find it simultaneously exhilarating and depressing; others find it ugly and hateful; a third faction seems to be kicking against the film not for how it says what it says, but, instead, for what it says in the first place.

Like a modernist version of a late ‘60s or early ‘70s relationship film—“An Unmarried Woman,” or “Carnal Knowledge” or “Faces,” for example, “Take this Waltz” first takes nothing for granted, and then takes everything on. Is monogamy viable? Why do we give up the old for the new? Or why do we not when we should? Can we ever be completely happy? Is sex love?

If Polley’s second directorial effort were just talking, it would still be superb; a scene where Kirby explains, at her prompting, exactly what he’d do to (and with, and for) Williams while they sit over martinis in a public restaurant is the most achingly sexual and intimate scene at the movies in 2011, with not a single touch. (The way Williams says the word “No” alone late in that scene—first as a question, then as an answer—is achingly raw.) But Polley has also become, early in her career, a visualist and sensualist of the highest order.

There are one or two mis-steps here, to be sure—a scene with a queeny, mincing aquarobics instructor and its denouement seem like they’re on loan from an Adam Sandler film; Sarah Silverman, as Rogen’s recovering alcoholic sister, is more a screen presence than an actor. And within the first 10 minutes, Williams has a speech about travel anxiety (“I’m … afraid of connections. In airports.”) that might as well have a light bulb-emblazoned sign reading “METAPHOR!” zoomed in on guywires. Those complaints, though, are only because the rest of this film is so good, and so strong, that they seem like cracks in a otherwise flawless creation. I cannot praise Williams and Rogen and the previously-unknown Kirby enough; I cannot convey to you the depths of Polley’s understanding (Polley knows that love is a conspiracy, and that there is no betrayal more traitorous than conspiring against your co-conspirator); I cannot convey the sense of heat and beauty in how Polley films Toronto’s streets and nights.

And yet, “Take this Waltz” is also, for lack of a better words, infuriating and troubling—not because of what it gets ‘wrong,’ but because the things it gets right are buried under your skin like a splinter you can’t dislodge, tearing at the nerves and flesh. Critic Carina Chocano recently wrote a New York Times Magazine piece on how what the cinema needs, perhaps, are fewer “strong” female characters and more real female characters; this film serves as a demonstration of that idea. William’s Margo is deeply flawed, perhaps irredeemably broken, capable of monstrous selfishness in the search for happiness—and human, and as worthy of happiness as anyone. As we are. And Polley isn’t afraid of sex, nor is she banal enough to think it cures all ills, or that it can’t be used as a weapon. (Polley gets the sad fact only people who’ve been in ugly and protracted breakups know: Nothing could ever be more intimate than denying someone intimacy.)

Before you think this all sounds dour and sour, though, also know that there are moments of laughter and joy here. Rogen subsumes his good humor into a performance—Lou, a cookbook writer, knows full well what his chicken-centered work-in-progress is doing to his life and diet—and there’s also a note of play here (even as it feeds into Polley’s theme of permanent adolescence and immaturity extending into our adult relationships); when Williams and Kirby taunt each other as ‘gaylords’ it’s horrible, real, immature and funny. And the films’ use of music—from a raucous party-scene Feist cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Closing Time,” to a montage set to the Cohen song the film takes its title from depicting a relationship in fast-forward, hot sex and warm affection cooling to calm domesticity and freezing into half-aware snuggling while TV-watching—is excellent, with the exception of a pop-song from the past, used in two scenes, too good and brilliant and thematically appropriate and trashily perfect to name. Suffice it to say that Polley can find the pathos behind an ‘80s one-hit wonder and turn that song’s dimwit chorus into an elegy on how time’s arrow moves only in one direction.

Polley has an eye for detail and an ear for truth; at a press event for the film, she noted how she wanted to make her film go past where a conventional movie like this would end, showing what comes after, and that follow-through is what turns the film from a strong jab into a knockout punch. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that Polley, after only “Away from Her” and “Take this Waltz,” is one of Canada’s and film’s most exciting and important new directors; I’d suggest that contention only seems ridiculous if you haven’t yet seen “Take this Waltz.”

From my article at The Playlist

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TIFF ’11 Review: Sarah Polley’s ‘Take This Waltz’ Has Insights And Edges Sharp Enough To Stab

In Sarah Polley’s Toronto-set drama “Take this Waltz,” Margo (Michelle Williams) stumbles across Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, only to find he lives across the street; despite being married to Lou (Seth Rogen), Margo can’t stop thinking of Daniel. Or maybe it’s because she’s married to Lou that she can’t stop thinking of Daniel … Following up “Away from Her,” Polley’s second film is sharply dividing critics and audience in Toronto: Many find it simultaneously exhilarating and depressing; others find it ugly and hateful; a third faction seems to be kicking against the film not for how it says what it says, but, instead, for what it says in the first place.

Like a modernist version of a late ’60s or early ’70s relationship film — “An Unmarried Woman,” or “Carnal Knowledge” or “Faces,” for example, “Take this Waltz” first takes nothing for granted, and then takes everything on. Is monogamy viable? Why do we give up the old for the new? Or why do we not when we should? Can we ever be completely happy? Is sex love?

If Polley’s second directorial effort were just talking, it would still be superb; a scene where Kirby explains, at her prompting, exactly what he’d do to (and with, and for) Williams while they sit over martinis in a public restaurant is the most achingly sexual and intimate scene at the movies in 2011, with not a single touch. (The way Williams says the word “No” alone late in that scene — first as a question, then as an answer — is achingly raw.) But Polley has also become, early in her career, a visualist and sensualist of the highest order.

There are one or two mis-steps here, to be sure — a scene with a queeny, mincing aquarobics instructor and its denouement seem like they’re on loan from an Adam Sandler film; Sarah Silverman, as Rogen’s recovering alcoholic sister, is more a screen presence than an actor. And within the first 10 minutes, Williams has a speech about travel anxiety (“I’m … afraid of connections. In airports.”) that might as well have a light bulb-emblazoned sign reading “METAPHOR!” zoomed in on guywires. Those complaints, though, are only because the rest of this film is so good, and so strong, that they seem like cracks in a otherwise flawless creation. I cannot praise Williams and Rogen and the previously-unknown Kirby enough; I cannot convey to you the depths of Polley’s understanding (Polley knows that love is a conspiracy, and that there is no betrayal more traitorous than conspiring against your co-conspirator); I cannot convey the sense of heat and beauty in how Polley films Toronto’s streets and nights.

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Bruce Greenwood: From Meek’s Cutoff to the Bridge of the Enterprise

In director Kelly Reichardt’s haunting, tense “Meek’s Cutoff,” a group of settlers (including Michelle Williams and Will Patton) traveling the Oregon trial in 1845 aren’t just facing the need for water and food in the unknown territory of the American West. They also have to come to grips with the fact that their expert guide, Stephen Meek, may be far less expert and knowledgeable than he said he was. Played by veteran Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek,” “13 Days,””National Treasure: Book of Secrets”), Meek becomes one of the year’s most complex — and unforgettable — characters.

According to Greenwood, the making of the film wasn’t especially far off from the hardship it depicted: “It felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere the whole time, because we were staying at a little place called the Horseshoe Motel in Burns, Oregon. The town itself is tiny, too, so you never really felt as though you’re close to much civilization. The actual, physical experience of being out in the Oregon high desert was really something. It’s incredibly dry and alkaline. Then as soon as the sun goes down, it’s blisteringly cold.”

Greenwood also explained how even he wasn’t sure what Meek did or didn’t know — and that director Reichardt wasn’t about to tell him: “She wanted that to be, I think, ambiguous for the audience, and in terms of letting me in on whether she felt it was one way or the other, that’s not the way she worked with me. I think she’s the kind of filmmaker where she wants the questions to be abundant, and the film in some ways is more about the questions it makes you ask than the resolutions that it provides.”

On a more shallow note, I asked, did Greenwood have to actually grow the giant beard that Meek wears in the film? “Keep it to yourself, but no. We pasted that on. I didn’t have the luxury of having a year to grow a great, scraggly grizzly (beard) like that.” I explained that when I saw the film in September, I had no idea it was actually him behind Meek’s facial foliage. Greenwood laughed: “That was one of the big appeals for me, aside from working with Kelly and Michelle — to play a character where you get to physically, really hide behind all this stuff. It allows you to swing to the fences a little bit.”

Given his career of playing presidents and American historical icons like Meek and JFK, I wondered aloud if Greenwood thinks his Canadian background gives him some perspective. “No, I really don’t,” he said. “I don’t separate them. I just think of the characters as people more than as icons of a nationality. Even if there may be, from role to role, a peculiar Americanness to one role or another, I don’t really think of them in terms of being American or being Canadian. Perhaps I should, but I just don’t. I’m more drawn by the characters themselves.”

Meanwhile, Greenwood’s enjoying the accolades for “Meek’s Cutoff,” and he’s getting ready to return to J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” franchise: “I’m looking forward to getting back with J.J. sometime in the fall, yeah. Anything could happen, but we’ve had a couple discussions about it, and I’m really looking forward to going back. It’s a great group of people.” And, I noted — thinking all the while of William Shatner — he’ll be maintaining the “Trek” tradition of having a Canadian on the bridge. Greenwood laughed: “Just to fold back on your original question about being Canadian … I think you’re absolutely right: Without a Canadian on the bridge of the Enterprise, it’s missing an element that can’t be replaced.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Director Kelly Reichardt: The Past, the Present and Meek’s Cutoff

Best-known for directing Michelle Williams in a career-highlight performance in “Wendy and Lucy,” director Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, “Meek’s Cutoff,” presented her with the challenge of filming all the trappings and traditions of the Western … with an indie-film budget. I asked Reichardt if making “Meek’s Cutoff,” with its period-accurate wagons and costumes, ever felt like making the world’s biggest Social Sciences diorama. “It was like being in sixth grade,” she said. “My costume designer and my production designer and I, it did really feel like we were on a sixth-grade field trip, meeting re-enactors and people who restore wagons, and it just led us to a bunch of characters we would have never have met who are obsessed with the period.”

And yet, Reichardt noted, the historically accurate gear helped shape the tone and tenor of her film: “There were many things in the production that mirrored what the immigrants would have gone through. We were dealing with all these pieces of equipment, and it really does make you slow down. Everything has a process; there’s not an immediacy to everything. It really does change your idea of time. (Cast member) Paul Dano said that the most intense thing for him was when he and Zoe (Kazan) left the film (set) and in two minutes flew over the desert they’d been walking through for the past month.”

That, to Reichardt, was part of “Meek’s Cutoff”: reclaiming some of the truths of the West from Hollywood’s legends. “Being a horrible student, so much of my impression of the West is from Westerns — and then you start reading these journals, and you get this female perspective which you don’t get in Westerns, much, and you realize, ‘Oh, it’s the opposite of the Western, where everything’s a heightened moment.’ In fact, the sense of time and space is such that it’s a trance you enter, walking across the country for six months. It’s the accumulation of these non-moments that bring stress, because you’re in this unknown area … and it’s almost more stressful than knowing there’s a shootout around the corner — it’s much more mysterious than that.”

While the film’s portrait of leadership gone awry could have all kinds of current parallels, Reichardt doesn’t think hunting for allegories is the best way to watch her film. “It should be categorically resisted — at least from our point of view,” she said. “The truth of the matter is the things that were appealing about the real Stephen Meek story — ‘Hey, here’s this blowhard guy who finagles a group of people into following him into the desert without a plan, and without a knowledge of the land’ — without a doubt, there’s something that felt very contemporary and in-the-moment about that. But as we were making the film, the political landscape changed so much — there was an election, Obama was elected — and I realized when I was cutting, almost anything that was going on, I could project onto the film; that’s just the mythology of the American West. I showed a rough cut to my colleagues, and a filmmaker said, ‘Oh, I get it … this is about Obama in Afghanistan.” And I was just like ‘What?’ I think it’s a story that’s easy to attach a lot of allegory to.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams of Blue Valentine, and the 2010 Films that Got Away …

In “Blue Valentine,” Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple, and we get to see them at very different stages of their life. We see them meet — cute kids excited by possibility — and then, years later, married, with a kid, worn down by reality. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, “Blue Valentine” went through a serious challenge when it initially received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, meaning it could be seen only by people over 17, a rating that’s a financial death sentence for any movie. That rating was later repealed, but when I spoke with Gosling in December, it wasn’t yet, and the 30-year-old actor had some inside perspective on what that rating meant to his film, and his confusion about why it was there at all.

“Well, I can’t make any sense of it,” he said. “They don’t give you enough information. I only know it’s because of the oral sex scene because I heard from somebody who talked to them. There’s no official statement, and there’s no real reasoning. You just hear it through the grapevine. The hearing takes place in private. It’s not recorded; you can’t really know. I’d love to hear the argument. I feel like we’re being held accountable for what we did, and I think they should be held accountable for what they’re doing. I’m confused.”

Frankly, the ratings board’s decision was confusing — especially when you consider that “Black Swan,” with a drug-fueled similar scene, got an R rating. Not only is it a double-standard, Gosling noted, but he found it hard to explain to people why the rating meant bad things for “Blue Valentine.” “What I think people don’t really understand is they think ‘So what, it’s an NC-17 film. You can’t see the film unless you’re 17. What’s the big deal?’ The reality is that if it gets an NC-17 rating, it can’t play in most major theater chains, and you’re not even allowed to take out ads on television. You’re really stigmatizing the film. In a way, you’re saying not ‘I don’t want kids to see it,’ but ‘I don’t want anyone to see it,’ unless you live in a big city and you have an art house theater. So it’s a very aggressive rating, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”

“But it is very much a double standard, it seems, because obviously you could reference other films, plenty of films where guys are receiving oral sex from women and that’s fine, or women in sexual scenarios that are violent, and that’s entertainment, but if they’re complicit or they’re receiving pleasure, or somehow if there’s love involved in the sex, it becomes pornographic. What else is confusing is the idea that it’s a film about, in a way, sexual responsibility. People are having careless sex, and she has a baby. She has to give up on her career plans and her life, and her whole life is affected by her choice. Everyone’s held accountable for their actions, which is pretty rare in terms of sexuality presented in film. Worst-case scenario, your kid sneaks in and sees that. What’s so bad — that a kid would see a man and a woman making love, or that there’s consequences for your actions?”

From my article at The Rundown

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Ryan Gosling: “I’m Not As Good As Michelle Williams …”

Blue Valentine” wasn’t shot like a conventional film, nor was the script written in stone. Instead, Ryan Gosling and co-star Michelle Williams pretty much moved into the house where much of the film was shot, with director Derek Cianfrance constantly rolling the camera and letting his actors live like a married couple. As Gosling explained, “We thought every detail we could think of, and we did everything we could do. We had Christmas and birthdays, made birthday cakes, wrapped presents, got family pictures at Sears, cooked, cleaned, fought, made up, bought clothes, gave old stuff away to the Goodwill, mowed the lawn, got in trouble for not mowing the lawn. We did as much as we could in that month so that we would have actual memories to refer to in the film.”

And Gosling and Williams didn’t get a lot of opportunities to decompress: “(Cianfrance) never really called ‘cut.’ He never really said ‘action.’ I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t like that. The thing that blows my mind is that Michelle somehow would do what you saw in the film and then she would go home at night and be a mom. She’s an athlete. … I felt like Scottie Pippen, and she was Michael Jordan. I felt like every time I’d pass her the ball, she slam-dunked it.” And what, I asked, did Gosling learn from that? “That I’m not as good as Michelle Williams.” I suggested he was being modest, and he demurred: “No, that’s true.” I asked if there was, in fact, anything else he learned, and Gosling laughed: “That Michelle Williams is better than me.”

Gosling may be more than willing to praise Williams, but it’s not as if his own performance is going unnoticed. Gosling is getting more than a little Oscar talk for his work in “Blue Valentine,” and not without cause. He explained how, to him, the Oscar process isn’t really something he thinks about, even as he plays along. “Well, there’s nothing you can do at that point. There’s nothing you can do. You do more interviews and go to more screenings, or something like that. There’s things you can do. But you can’t change your performance, and you can’t change how it’s going to resonate with people. You can’t change the criteria how these things are judged. All that stuff is out of your control. You’re not aware that you’re in some kind of competition when you’re doing it. When you’re making a movie, at the end of the year it’s treated like some kind of a race, but when you’re doing it, you don’t even know. You’re just in a competition with yourself.”

Gosling, of course, was nominated for “Half Nelson” in 2006. Does he feel like that experience would prepare him for another nomination? “I really have no idea,” he said. “You can’t really predict those things. I’m just excited that people are talking about the movie. We have a big hurdle now with this rating, and all of this helps. Anything to raise awareness for the film. This film took 12 years to make this movie. We worked on this for years. Right in the home stretch, to be handicapped with a rating like this, it’s unfortunate. We’ll make it. Movies have a life way after these three months they’re being promoted. People will find — I didn’t see ‘Blue Velvet’ until I was 14. It was probably 10 years after it was made, but it changed my life. People will find this movie when they’re supposed to find it, and it’s the best movie I’ve made. That’s reward enough for me.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Michelle Williams: ‘The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh in Equal Measure …’

A few days later, talking by phone with Ryan Gosling‘s “Blue Valentine” co-star Michelle Williams, I could hear her children in the background as she came on the line. After some placating and guidance, she came to the conversation, and I asked, only half-kiddingly, if this is just part of the pleasure of being Michelle Williams, that she goes through the tough balancing act of having it all? Williams, whose personal life has occasionally overshadowed her superb body of work, laughed: “I have never once looked at it as a case of trying to have it all. No, I think that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh in equal measure. Although I actually don’t think that’s true. I think he takes and takes and takes. Sometimes I feel like you’re like running through time shedding. There’s this quote in this book that I love, ‘Rich in Love': ‘When you’ve truly lost everything, then you can at least become rich in love.’ And I feel like I’m rolling in it. And then there are these small pleasures and large pleasures along the way that help you — or that, I (just) don’t know.”

And, like Gosling, she’s also trying to keep her head in the hubbub of awards season: “I mean, it gives my heart a little — what would I call it? — a little start, a little … if I say ‘a hug,’ I’m going to be embarrassed for all time. I mean a little jump start, a little kick of energy or something. It’s lovely, because I think — maybe more in keeping with what I was trying to say before — is that there are so many things, there are so many reasons to not celebrate. So when something comes along, it’s like learning how to take a compliment. You know what else it is? Appreciate when things are going well, because as soon as things are going well, it means that it’s going to change.”

Williams doesn’t seem to take the roles other young actresses do — I noted that she’s never been the plucky journalist with a new job in the big city, or the tough-as-nails cop with bangs and a gun. Do her agents and advisers, I asked, ever suggest a part like that in the name of building a paycheck along with a career? “Yes, I hear that from time to time,” she said. “I am interested in not repeating myself, obviously. That would be boring for me and for everyone else. So I have my eye on that, but at the same time, staying true to what is my nature, what are my beliefs, and how I want to spend my time, how I want to spend the time that I have in this lifetime, which is never enough. And also, my work takes me away from my daughter. She comes with me, obviously, but it is time spent away from her, so for me, to justify that decision, you couldn’t pay me to spend time away from her. I don’t do this for money. I do it to support us, sure, but it’s not the motivating factor. So my time away from her has to mean something almost on a spiritual level. Like I don’t have a choice; I must do this.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine, Shutter Island and Emotional Exhaustion

Michelle Williams was in Martin Scorsese‘s big-budget thriller “Shutter Island” earlier in the year. Does it, I asked, make a difference to her if she’s in a movie that costs tens of thousands of dollars, or tens of millions? “No, not really,” she said. “I have a preference to working small, because I like to feel — I like to know everybody’s names. I like to feel that we are all in it together. I think that I give better performances when I have relationships on set. When everybody’s in it with you, really. Sometimes I wish I was a different kind of actress. Sometimes I wish I could just unpack my suitcase, so to speak. What I want to say, what I’m trying to say, is that of course it doesn’t ultimately matter, but I do find the roles just tend to be more interesting, honestly, in the smaller movies that I get offered, as opposed to the more commercial things. I also think there’s better actors for that. I’m not the best person for those jobs.”

Of course, smaller films often mean more intensity — as was the case with “Blue Valentine” and its hard-to-watch moments of conflict and intimacy. I asked Williams if that was as tough as it seemed. “It was, indeed, exhausting,” she said. “It’s exhausting, but also it’s regenerative, because working like that, it gives back to you in a strange way. It was exhausting because you never knew what was going to happen. What I mean is that you’re constantly on your toes, and that all of your senses are in overtime because you’re basically under siege. You’re under siege with the actor that’s in front of you and the director that’s asking of you, and so you must be alert at all times, especially when you’re working with somebody like Ryan, who is prepared — fully prepared — and completely unpredictable.”

Since I spoke with Gosling after the NC-17 rating had been appealed, and with Williams after it had been reversed, I asked her if it was a relief to have that change made. “Oh, it sure is,” she said. “When I first heard about it, it didn’t really rile me up, until I came to understand that the larger issue was one of censorship and of valuing violence over an honest portrayal of a sexual relationship over time. So to have it overturned actually feels kind of miraculous, although something else I’ve learned along the way is it’s good company to be in. (To be) censored material is kind of a compliment. When I first heard, I thought that it was referring to children under the age of 17 being allowed to see this film or not. Because I’m a girl and because I wasn’t socialized to fight — I was socialized to accept the world as it is and learn how to work inside of it — so I didn’t think about it. Especially when you’re fighting a roomful of men. I thought, ‘I’m not going to get anywhere.’ When that was explained to me, that you could basically only have access to this movie if you lived in a major metropolis near an art house cinema, then my little fighter spirit came alive. And also, I came to understand my role of the woman in the situation in question. What I wanted to communicate was that when we filmed that scene — the oral sex scene, the scene in question — Derek and Ryan said, ‘If you see this, and you feel uncomfortable with this, it won’t be in the movie.’ So actually, it was my decision.” Williams laughed, low and bemused: “I’m the reason we’re in this mess.” “Blue Valentine” opens this week in limited release.

From my article at The Rundown

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