Interview with Michelle Williams for Synecdoche New York May 18, 2009 Michelle Williams talks Ang Lee, Dawson’s Creek shame and her new film “Synecdoche, New York” Rumours are buzzing that Michelle Williams has found love again and it set to tie the knot with director Spike Jonze. If she is, she’s clearly not ready to talk about it. Since the death of her ex-fiance Heath Ledger, movies and the celebrity spotlight have taken a backseat for shy Michelle. She is concentrating all her energy on being devoted single-mum to three-year-old Matilda and everything else in her life has been kept low-key. Her promising career has been put on hold while she re-evaluates her life and takes time out from the public eye. In this interview before her break from showbusiness Michelle, 28, talks about her new movie Synecdoche New York, going undercover, her favourite red carpet look and why she has learnt to appreciate every day and everything she has . . . Q: Can you tell us about Synecdoche New York? MW: “It was great, I love this movie. But there was this one scene I remember when we were shooting the play-within-the-movie, I looked up and there were Phil (Seymour Hoffman), Catherine Keener and Jennifer Jason Leigh – like, three of the actors I most admire in the world – all watching me. And I had to perform in front of them as this bad, miscast actress… it was literally the stuff of my nightmares. (Laughs)” Q: How do you approach every role you play? MW: “This is probably something that all actors say but you never judge the person you are going to play. That goes for all the parts I’ve played. Everything I have experienced in my life through my friends or whatever gets stored in this kind of bank internally, in a way. And really the work is to just to stay open and keep taking the experiences and making meaning out of them. And you draw from that at every opportunity in every character that you play.” Q: Can you go about your day without being recognised? MW: “A lot of the time I can. But I know when someone recognises me. You get like this sixth sense – even when they think that they’re being very subtle you still know. You can feel it. But I still take the subway, and it’s harder now especially, but I feel like you can, with enough effort, sort of cloak yourself.” Q: What is one of the biggest lessons you have learnt? MW: “I was brought up to believe that everyone is born on an equal playing field and that every American has the opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I was brought up to believe that but I have found from life and my own experiences that that is just not true.” Q: It has been rumoured you’re dating the director Spike Jonze – how is that going? MW: “I don’t really want to talk about that, thanks.” Q: What do you like about living in Brooklyn? MW: “I could go on and on. The first time I went to Brooklyn I remember getting out of the train and feeling so disoriented because there was all this sky. I didn’t know how I had travelled so quickly to a land that was obviously so remote. I looked for ages to find the right place in Manhattan and people said “Well, what about Brooklyn?” I said “I didn’t move to New York to live in Brooklyn.” But then I wanted a garden and that was only going to be possible in Brooklyn. Now I really wouldn’t go back to Manhattan. The neighbourhood that we live in is just amazing. I never thought that I would have that living in New York City. Q: When did you first start thinking about going into acting? MW: “I had a moment when I was a kid and going to see a play and I just sort of remember sitting on the edge of my seat and holding on like I could take off, like I was just going to be propelled on to the stage. I was so blown away. And it was a Rinky Dink production of Tom Sawyer and it was in a basement and the ceiling was leaking and the costumes were bad, but I was just dumb. I was in awe. (Laughs) I was also a fibber as a kid. And so I think I saw ‘Well, that’s for me’ and then it just became this way out, honestly. I moved. I got emancipated from my parents when I was young and I moved to LA and it was just a way out. I feel very far away from it now. It used to be this very defining moment. I had my whole identity wrapped up in the fact that I was independent and I had done this thing and now it just seems like another lifetime away and I’m just so happy I’m alive.” Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring actor? MW: “I suppose the thing that I am just starting to learn now – because I’ve had to have it checked and I’ve made mistakes – is to follow my own counsel. The only thing that really separates one actor from another is their instinct and the ability to protect it. They should not necessarily follow a traditional path. They should follow their own path. It sounds so cheesey but it is really the advice I’m taking myself. You can admire people and you can look up to people but I think the reason you admire them is that they’ve blazed their own way. That is what I’m trying to do myself in the midst of something that wants to make you the same as everyone else. They should keep to the thing that makes them unique.” Q: You are best known for your role in Brokeback Mountain where you worked with director Ang Lee. What was he like to work with? MW: “With me he was very compassionate. He was almost like a woman he was just so gentle. He would just literally hold my hand and rub my back and say ‘I know, I know, I know’. He was just so dear to me. I think it’s because that’s what I needed, I think that’s what he saw. I’ve noticed personally, I’m shy and I work best when I feel like somebody trusts me. When I worked with Todd Haynes and I was trying to do something that I’d never really done before and play this character that was very outward and edicentric creation I was nervous and it was all new to me, every time he would say ‘Great, do it again’. And I just got the sense that even if it wasn’t great I blossomed because I felt so free and confident. I could make mistakes and I couldn’t see him panic ever and he trusted me enough to make mistakes and not get nervous. And I think Ang probably saw something similar but with the boys [Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal] he was very tough. He would give more notes to the boys. They would do some big meaty scene and ask ‘How was that? How was that?’ and all he would say was ‘Light was good.’ And they had just poured their hearts out, so I guess that’s what makes a good director too. Knowing what each actor needs.” Q: You really seem to go for the smaller indie films now. Are you totally against big Hollywood as far as aliens and guns? Is that totally of disinterest to you? MW: Yeah I guess so. That work seems really hard for me. I think I would do really bad at it. Acting with an alien or acting with a gun. I just, I can’t you know I’ll read those scripts but I just can’t see myself there and I don’t think I would serve the story better than any else could. That’s just not for me right now. Q: Do you regret any decisions you have made across your career? MW: “I think it is important to make mistakes in the way that you choose projects in order to learn. I mean, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in choices that I have made, but I have made some great choices too.” Q: Do you still feel ashamed of your past in Dawson’s Creek? MW: “I was young, and I felt kind of embarrassed by “Dawson’s Creek” at the time, so I guess I took a stroppy pride in doing something weightier. But now, with some perspective, I realize how much that show meant to a whole generation of kids. I feel quite happy to have been involved with that.” Q: What do you have coming up next? MW: I’m in the middle of a break. This is my time off. I mean, I did two films after Wendy and Lucy, so those will come out. I did a Lukas Moodysson film, Mammoth, and then I did a Scorsese film, Shutter Island. So, I said I was going to take a year off. And that’s what I’m doing. It’s not so much of a chunk of time off, but I’ve just been working so much for such a long time I think I stopped feeling creative a little while ago, and I was just running on fumes. And I didn’t realize it. I thought somebody else would step in and say like, “Oh, you’re exhausted. You have burnt out. Take a break.” But when you’re an adult, you have to be your own monitor of that. So I just realized I have to stop now, and hopefully refuel–fill back up somehow. Work can be great to get you through certain crises. To have something that you have to show up at and something that generally passes the time.” Q: What are your plans for the future? MW: “I’d love to do something a bit more light-hearted, but not inane. It’s so difficult to be an adult, and know which decisions to make.” Q: You have been spotted at some runway shows in the past – do you enjoy going to them? MW: “It feels like a fun girls’ day out. All girls like clothes. I just like simple clothes without too much fuss. Which is what I look out for when I do get the opportunity to go.” Q: Do you see yourself as a modern-day style icon? MW: “Not really, no. I’m actually very shy and I have such problems with people looking at me. So no, I don’t dress to draw attention to myself at all.” Q: Do you enjoy red carpet occasions? MW: “The whole promotion thing is a huge problem for me. I’m not comfortable with red carpets at all. When I first started to do it, for Brokeback Mountain, it was crazy. I had never been through anything like it before and it really just rocked me. It steals your life, and y’know for me now especially I have to find a way to make movies that gives me a sane existence and a private existence. There are just certain things I can’t do because I don’t want to give my life up. I just don’t want to strap a film to my back – fly all over the world and show up at lots of different places with a different dress and a new hairdo.” Q: Are you finding in this recession that you are cutting back on your spending? MW: “I think I have always lived a relatively modest life. I’m not such a flashy person so I’ve saved really well.” Synecdoche, New York is now showing at Irish cinemas.