My Moody Valentine… Well, at least that’s what Paul Byrne expected. Instead, Michelle Williams – star of this week’s Blue Valentine – was friendly, frank and funny.
This time two years ago, it must have been tempting for Michelle Williams to pack in this acting lark.
Here was an actress who had always been what she herself refers to as “press-shy”. Just like her ex-partner – and father of their daughter, Matilda Rose (now five years old) – Heath Ledger.
This time two years ago, there was a custody battle looming between the two, Williams and Ledger having met on the set of 2004’s Brokeback Mountain. They officially announced their split in September 2007.
And then, on January 22nd, 2008, Heath Ledger was found dead, from an accidental overdose.
And that’s when Michelle Williams’ very private life became very public. Two years later, the paparazzi still hover around the Booklyn townhouse she shares with Matilda. To explain their presence, Williams tell her daughter that the paparazzi are merely big fans of her late father, and that they simply want to make sure his daughter is doing okay.
Finally beginning to enjoy her work again, Williams says of the shooting of her latest movie, the dark romantic tale Blue Valentine, that it’s the first time that work has been fun “in a long, long time”. It’s also a very fine movie, one that explores the devolution of devotion with little compromise. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance was initially inspired by the Supremes hit, Where Did Our Love Go?.
When I caught up with Williams on the phone on Tuesday, she was busy playing mum, but in a surprisingly playful mood – opening with a cheery, “Hello, Paul – how are you?”
PAUL BYRNE: How are you, dearest? You’re well today, I hope…
MICHELLE WILLIAMS: I’m fine, thank you. A little under the weather, but fine.
I’m sure you absolutely adore doing interviews…
Well, to be honest, when I’m multi-tasking, it’s not so bad.
Good woman. I’m actually baking a cake and filling in me tax returns right now, so, we’re both using our time wisely...
This isn’t all that bad. I get to talk to you. You sound like a good time…
Ryan finds it funny that you guys spent a month and a half making Blue Valentine, and now you’ve spent a year promoting it. All part of the job, going out there to bang a few cans, and kiss a few babies?
[Laughs] You know, that’s true. I’ve always been press-shy, I suppose, like most people – actors – are. I always thought, it just infringes too much on my personal life, and it puts me in a little tailspin, and then I say too much, and then I’m hard on myself, and it’s really this rollercoaster that I put myself on. It’s just not worth it. But then, when I came to understand about movies – especially a movie like Blue Valentine, and a lot of the movies that I like to make – is that they don’t have the kind of budget for promotion that big films do. They can’t really afford TV ads, or giant newspaper ads, so, the success of the movie rests on the shoulders of the actors that are in it. And it becomes your duty, if you want people to see it, to take it out into the world and kind of show it off. Lead it around the ring, like at a dog show [laughs].
So, with that understanding, that’s the spirit with which I’ve tried to go out and stand behind this movie. Stand behind Derek as a great director, and I’m so proud of the movie that he made, and the tenacity that he had, the commitment. So, that’s why I’m here…
It was back in December 2003 when you first read the script, and it would be six years before you actually shot it. A lot happened to you in those six years, so, I’m guessing it became a very different movie too…
Yeah, I suppose it was. I read the film so many times over the years, because it had, at so many points, looked like it was ready to be made, and we would be asked to read the script again and make my decision anew as to whether or not I wanted to make this film. Which is tricky, because I fell in love with this when I first read it, at 21 or 22. I mean, a deep, abiding love. But it can be hard to revisit something that you were attracted to when you were still kind of forming.
Like, if I had to still wear the clothes that I wore at 21, I would be humiliated. But I also think that this is what the movie is about. How do you stand behind a choice that you made when you were not the person that you are today. So, I found that each time I read the script, either something in the story had changed, or something in me had changed, and what had once been a mystery to me, because I didn’t have enough time under my belt, was then solved. And then there was another mystery waiting to intrigue me, in a way. You know what I mean? The project and I changed at the same rate.
The movies you tend to make – Mammoth, Wendy And Lucy, Blue Valentine – are not easy movies to sell. Ever feel the urge to throw on a bikini and grin and bear Matthew McConaughey, just to throw some real money in the bank?
Em, I don’t. I don’t. For… I don’t know. I read this book to my daughter, called Just Enough And Not Too Much [by Kaethe Zemach], and I think, you know, the lesson that I’m trying to impart to her is that it’s important not to be greedy. You need to share your toys, and to realise that we don’t get everything that we want, and it wouldn’t be healthy for me to spoil her. I need to practice those lessons. So, I feel like that about the movies that I make.
I don’t know how to say it, because I’m in a privileged position where I do have just enough, you know. And not many people can say that.
So, sometimes I feel embarrassed to turn down that kind of money, because so many people would see an offer like that as an incredible opportunity. And maybe you can do a movie like that and just give all the money away, but I honestly think I can give more from what I have. I don’t know, I’m probably making it more complicated than I need to. It’s just not for me. Because, you know, it takes all kinds, and there are people who are better than me at making those kinds of movies, and they want to make those movies. So, why not let them do it?
That sudden onslaught of long lenses, did it make you think twice about this particular line of work?
It’s a funny one. Does it sound obnoxious when people say, ‘Oh, that’s not my favourite part of it; it’s just something that comes with the job’? I don’t know how that sounds…
It sounds perfectly reasonable…
Really? Because I think that not many people would like it. For most people, that kind of experience would be very disconcerting, and alienating, and uncomfortable, so, I… Eh, I guess I’m just trying to always keep it in check, and making sure that it doesn’t… I don’t want to spend more time doing that than I do working. That it doesn’t make me miserable to the point where it outweighs the value that I find in doing this work. In making movies. So, it’s a constant kind of… But also, I feel embarrassed talking about it, because it’s a very rarefied problem. It’s not highly… I don’t know, it feels buji.
That’s Latin for bullshit, right?
You turned 30 last September 9th – any revelations? Reservations?
Well, it was marked very, very quietly, and that was fine with me. Trying to think – reservations? You know what, I listened to Annette Bening accept an award last night, and I thought, here we go. I don’t know how old she is – do you…?
I would guess she’s in her fifties now…
I thought, if my mind will start to turn and work in those ways, I’m excited.
Very last thing, to keep my single-minded, simple-minded editor happy, any Irish connection? Your middle name is Ingrid – that’s Irish, right?
Right. No, I’ve never been to Ireland. When I was last in London, we were always trying to scheme a trip over to Dublin, but it never happened.
You’re attractive and talented enough to make me think that there must be Irish blood in there somewhere…
[Laughs] I do like you…
We Irish have travelled extensively, impregnating where ‘er we went…
You know, I think I’ve heard rumours of it on my dad’s side, so, let’s just say yes.
Sweet. You can sing Danny Boy with true Irish pride from now on.
There won’t be a dry eye in the house…
Interview by Paul Byrne.
Blue Valentine hits Irish cinemas Jan 14th