Michelle Williams (actress)

Michelle Williams
A photo of a women in her 30s with a blonde cropped hairstyle. She is smiling while looking to her right. Part of her dark blue top with ruffle sleeves can be seen.
Williams at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival
Born Michelle Ingrid Williams
September 9, 1980 (1980-09-09) (age 31)
Kalispell, Montana, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1993–present
Partner Heath Ledger (2004–2007)
Children 1

Michelle Ingrid Williams (born September 9, 1980) is an American actress. After starting her career with television guest appearances in the early 1990s, Williams achieved recognition for her role as Jen Lindley on the WB television teen drama Dawson's Creek, from 1998 to 2003. Williams graduated to full-length features including Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, her first mainstream film, Dick (1999), a comedy, and Prozac Nation (2001), a biographical film adaption.

Since the 2000s, the actress mostly appeared in dramatic independent films. A career highlight for Williams was starring in 2005's controversial movie Brokeback Mountain, about a homosexual relationship in the 1960s. One of its eight Academy Award nominations was a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Williams. Brokeback Mountain was followed with I'm Not There (2007), Synecdoche, New York (2008) and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010). Williams's performance as a drifter in 2008's Wendy and Lucy earned her critical praise and her work opposite Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine (2010) led to the actress receiving another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actress. Upcoming films for Williams included playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn (2011) and the 2013 3-D Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Her relationship with actor and Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger remains the most high-profile of Williams's relationships since the 1990s. Before breaking up in 2007, they had one child together: a daughter named Matilda Rose, born October 28, 2005. After his death in January 2008, the media paid close attention to Williams and her daughter; the two were also frequently followed by paparazzi.


Early life and career

Early life

Williams was born on September 9, 1980, in Kalispell, Montana, the daughter of Carla Ingrid (née Swenson), a homemaker, and Larry Richard Williams, an author and stock and commodities trader.[1][2][3][4] He was also a two-time Republican candidate for the United States senate.[5] She is of part Norwegian descent.[6] Since a child, Williams kept to herself and was self-sufficient; as she has said, "I was really secretive with my parents and I think I sort of continued that... I found that by keeping to myself I got on OK. I don't know why."[7] When Williams was nine, her family moved to San Diego, California, and, at an early age, she became interested in acting.[5]


Williams began her career in the early 1990s by making guest appearances on television programs such as Step by Step and Home Improvement.[8][9] The July 1994 release of Paramount Pictures's adventure film Lassie marked the actress's screen debut.[10] Her role as the younger version of Sil, an alien-human who quickly grows up to become the monster character played by Natasha Henstridge, in Species opened Williams to a wider audience.[11] Following this, Williams made appearances in the made-for-television movies My Son Is Innocent (1996), which saw her transition into more dramatic work, and Killing Mr. Griffin, where she plays a member of Susan's (played by Amy Jo Johnson) geek clique in 1997.[12][13]

At age 15, faced with her parents's disapproval, she emancipated herself from them.[7] This was in order for Williams to better pursue her acting career and not have to worry about child labor work laws.[14] After completing the ninth grade at the Upper School of Santa Fe Christian Schools, in Solana Beach, California,[15] she left school because of severe bullying.[7] Subsequently, Williams was home-tutored by her mother and graduated early. After moving to Los Angeles, she quickly secured a prominent role in Dawson's Creek.[14] Reflecting on decisions as a teen, Williams commented that she thought she knew all there was needed to know since age 15.[16] She also admitted in 2011 that she promptly chose to be emancipated after being influenced by celebrity headlines about young actors doing the same.[17] In 1997, unhappy with the roles they were being offered, Williams and several other actor friends wrote a script entitled Blink. It was sold, but nothing happened with it.[18]

A starring role alongside Katie Holmes in The WB's hit teen drama Dawson's Creek (1998–2003) helped raise them both to prominence.[10] At age 17, Williams portrayed Creek character Jen Lindley, who she related to as they both grew up too fast. For filming of the semi-autobiographical series based on its creator Kevin Williamson's childhood, she moved to North Carolina.[19] She described her character as "this stable, happy-go-lucky girl still wrestling with demons" to USA Today.[10] Open to having a reunion special, she said that being on Creek allowed her to choose projects solely for desire and was a blessing.[16][20] Williams recalled of working on the program, "Being on a show like Dawson’s Creek for so long …you spend so much of the year doing something you are not entirely invested in. So when you devote yourself to nine months of the year to that kind of work, you have to make awfully certain that you spend the three precious months off in a way that’s true and not time-wasting."[21]

While still working on Creek, Williams continued to make film appearances. In what would be her first mainstream production, she accepted a role in the slasher film Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).[22][23] It was a financial success, making $55 million against its $17 million budget.[24] Alongside Kirsten Dunst, Williams co-starred in 1999's comedy Dick. The movie is a parody retelling the events of the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon.[25] She then began to do more challenging work,[23] starting with a small part in But I'm a Cheerleader, helmed by Jamie Babbit.[26]


She then appeared in the 2000 HBO television movie sequel If These Walls Could Talk 2. Divided into three separate sections, it follows lesbian couples in different time periods. Williams and Chloë Sevigny appeared in the second segment, about bitter divisions in the feminist movement during 1972. While Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker praised Sevigny, he assessed Williams to have overdone her character's "grinning eagerness to be naughty".[27] From then on, the actress began to work on little seen independent features. "I feel like I haven't been working in a particularly flashy or visible way," she reflected to Vogue magazine. "If you weren't looking for them, you would miss the movies that I've made that I'm proud of."[10] For Me Without You (2001), Williams co-starred with Anna Friel as a timid nerd in a film charting their different character's toxic friendship as the years go by.[28] The movie amassed polarized reception, with review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reporting it to have a 66 percent rating based on 65 reviews.[29] Next up was Prozac Nation (2002), starring Christina Ricci and based on the autobiography of the same name by Elizabeth Wurtzel about her battle with major depression.[30] Asked if her roommate role was interesting to play, Williams said: "I think what it needed to be was helpful. Somebody to stand like this [punches her hand] so that she [Ricci] could keep smacking up against it."[7]

Those roles were followed by 2003's The United States of Leland, which focuses on Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling) stabbing an autistic boy to death, presumably without any motive. Williams stars in it as the victim's grieving sister.[31] Reviews were mostly negative, with The Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey calling it "neither an insightful nor well-made film."[32] In what would be where,[33] according to Total Film, she found material better suited for her,[34] Williams rounded out the year by joining Miramax Films's BAFTA-winning The Station Agent. A dramedy, it follows a dwarf Fin (Peter Dinklage) who lives in an abandoned train depot, and hesitantly starts a friendship with a librarian, played by Williams. Along with other cast members, including Bobby Cannavale and Patricia Clarkson, Williams was nominated for an Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a motion picture.[35] After Creek ended that same year, Williams admitted having difficulty finding the right roles, as she was seen as a "pop tart".[20]

Wim Wenders wrote the film Land of Plenty (2004), which investigates anxiety and disillusionment in a post-9/11 America, with the actress in mind.[36] She later accepted the part of Lana, a homeless shelter worker trying to contact her troubled Vietnam veteran uncle (John Diehl).[37] The 2007 Independent Spirit Awards recognized Williams's work, nominating her for Best Actress.[38] She made her next screen appearance in Imaginary Heroes, centering around the effect a son's suicide has on his suburban family.[39] It made less than $300,000 worldwide in ticket sales.[40] With Meat Loaf, she starred as an impressionable young women fixated on mental health in the 2005 feature film debut of Richard Ledes and the generally ignored period piece A Hole in One".[41] Something considered rare for the actress was appearing in the critically panned comedy The Baxter, also starring director and writer Michael Showalter as the protagonist.[42][43] However, reviewers praised Williams. "Only when Williams is around does the movie seem human, true, and funny: Even in her slapstick there's pain. She's almost too good: It's not until she's left a scene that you realize the movie isn't working." observed The Boston Globe reporter Wesley Morris.[44] Released on August 26, Showalter's movie made $37,000 opening weekend before going on to gross over $180,000 domestically.[45]

Williams gained public recognition for Brokeback Mountain, a controversial film directed by Ang Lee that depicts a 1960s homosexual relationship between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal).[46] Williams plays Ennis's wife Alma, who starts to become aware of the true nature of his and Jack's relationship. After viewing The Station Agent, casting director Avy Kaufman suggested Williams for Alma to the filmmaker.[47] Going from a 5-theater screening to a 2,000-theater-plus screening, it was a box office hit, grossing around $178 million worldwide in ticket sale revenue against its $14 million production costs.[48] Subsequently, she was nominated for most of the high-profile awards, as was the film itself. Out of its eight nominations, which was the most for any film that year and included a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Williams, it won three accolades at the 78th Academy Awards.[49] The saffron Vera Wang dress which she wore to the Academy Awards in March 2006 has been cited by Cosmopolitan magazine as one of the Best Oscar dresses of all time.[50]


After a two-year film absence, Williams returned with The Hawk Is Dying (2007), also starring Michael Pitt. Its story tells of George (acted by Paul Giamatti) trying to find meaning in his life by training a wild red-tailed hawk. Williams was cast as Pitt's girlfriend, the only person who understands George's growing obsession.[51] The little-seen picture made just $7,000 domestically playing at one theater.[52] Five months after giving birth, Williams was back in front of the camera for The Hottest State, a film by Ethan Hawke adapted from his 1996 book.[53][54] Critics gave it negative reviews for being too pretentious and self-aware. Variety writer Leslie Felperin believed the film underused Williams as one of the main character's former lovers.[55] It did a limited theatrical run on August 24, ultimately grossing $137,340.[56] Williams was also apart of the biographical ensemble piece I'm Not There, inspired by musician Bob Dylan, as a representation of Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick.[57] In October 2006, she signed on to play a blonde known as S, who seduces Ewan McGregor's accountant character in what was originally called The Tourist, Deception (2008).[58] They again worked together, this time for Incendiary, about the aftermath of a terrorist attack at a football game taken from former journalist Chris Cleaves's 2005 book Incendiary'.[59] She portrayed the protagonist, an unnamed adulterous British mother who loses her husband and son in the attack. In his The Independent review, Robert Hanks assessed it to be "sloppy" and said Williams deserved better offers than this.[60]

Impressed by her work in Dick,[36] screenwriter Charlie Kaufman cast Williams in his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, with a cast featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson. A box office bomb,[61] it was praised in the media, appearing on many top ten critic's lists for 2008.[62] Wendy and Lucy, an acclaimed small-budgeted low-key drama directed and co-written by Kelly Reichardt, follows Wendy (Williams), a drifter looking to start a new life, searching for her dog Lucy after a series of setbacks.[63][64] Unlike others, including the director, Williams did not find it to be depressing. "Personally I like seeing those kinds of movies. I find them comforting because they make me feel less alone." The actress also said Wendy and Lucy having a documentary-like feeling was a "gift" as that is the type of filmmaking she enjoys.[63] Houston Chronicle writer Amy Blancolll said her performance, "a bare-bones accomplishment of no small heft," was the movie's key.[64] The Toronto Film Critics Association Awards named Williams and the film 2008's Best Actress and Best Movie.[65] Filming for Mammoth (2009) brought Williams to locations like Sweden, Thailand and the Philippines.[66] She and Gael García Bernal played the co-leads: a successful couple experiencing conditions related to modern day globalization. It was director Lukas Moodysson's first English-language movie and found distribution through IFC Films.[66][67]

Martin Scorsese cast the actress in the supporting, but vital role, of the dead wife haunting the dreams of marshal Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in Shutter Island,[68] a psychological thriller based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 best-selling novel. Originally due out in October 2009, its release date was bumped to February 19, 2010.[69] With $41.1 million in ticket sales at over 2,900 locations, Shutter Island gave Williams her widest release and best opening weekend stats.[70] In December, she starred opposite Gosling again as a struggling married couple in the romantic drama Blue Valentine. To better get into character, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance made Williams and Gosling live together during the day for a month.[71] She later said that the experience was great and wished she had appreciated it more.[72] Shown at 2010's Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival, the movie was a hit among critics.[73][74] Both actors were lauded with praise and awards attention.[75][76] "Ms. Williams and Mr. Gosling are exemplars of New Method sincerity, able to be fully and achingly present every moment on screen together," wrote The New York Times columnist A.O. Scott.[77] Her performance as Cindy, who has grown tired of her husband's lack of direction and addictions, was also nominated for Best Actress by the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards.

Meek's Cutoff was shot in Burns, Oregon and reunited Williams with Reichardt. It is based on a historical incident on the Oregon Trail in 1845, in which frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through a desert.[78] After premiering during the 67th Venice International Film Festival, the well-reviewed bleak period piece saw a limited release in cinemas starting April 8, 2011.[79][80] Williams was cast over Kate Hudson and Amy Adams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, a British drama based on two novels by Colin Clark, depicting the making of the The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).[81] Initially terrified of taking on the role, she turned down the offer. "Physically and vocally, everything about her is different from me," she explained. Eventually, she found the offer too good of an opportunity to pass-up.[82] Williams took vocal lessons so she could sing in the movie, as lip-syncing was uncomfortable.[83] Her next performance is in Take This Waltz (2011), directed by Sarah Polley in Canada, that focuses on a young married couple (Williams and Seth Rogen) dealing with monogamy and fidelity.[16][84] During 2011 it was reported that Williams signed on to star in Walt Disney Pictures's Oz, The Great and Powerful, a 3-D prequel to be released March 8, 2013.[85]

Personal life

An image of a smiling Caucasian women. She has her blonde hair in a ponytail and is wearing a one shouldered white dress with a black horizontal stripe.
Williams at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival for the premiere of Shutter Island

Williams began dating Australian actor and Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger in 2004 after meeting on the set of their film.[7][86][87] In late April 2005 People first reported that Williams and Ledger were expecting a child together. At the age of 25, on October 28, 2005, Williams gave birth to their first child: a daughter named Matilda Rose Ledger,[10] whom she later called the center of her life.[86]

During the couple's time together, they opted to have a low-key life in Brooklyn, New York.[47] By September 2007, Williams and Ledger amicably ended their three year relationship.[88] Of the break-up, People quoted her telling Elle magazine, "I didn't know where to go. I couldn't imagine any place in the world that was gonna feel good to me."[10] After Ledger's death from an accidental overdose in January 2008, the usually under-the-radar actress and her young daughter became an interest of the media and were often followed by paparazzi.[19][36] As a result, Williams rarely gave interviews until the end of 2009.[89] On February 1, 2008, in her first public statement after Ledger's death, Williams expressed her heartbreak and described Ledger's spirit as surviving in their daughter.[90] Later that month she attended his memorial and funeral services.[91]

Several months after Ledger's death, the actress began dating director Spike Jonze, but around a year later they split.[89]


Film and television
Year Title Role Notes
1993 Baywatch Bridget Bowers TV series (one episode: "Race Against Times: Part 1")
1994 Step by Step J.J. TV series (one episode: "Something Wild")
1994 Lassie April Porter Nominated— Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress Co-Starring in a Motion Picture
1995 Timemaster Jesse
1995 Home Improvement Jessica Lutz TV series (one episode: "Wilson's Girlfriend")
1995 Species Young Sil
1996 My Son Is Innocent Donna TV film
1997 Killing Mr. Griffin Maya
1997 Thousand Acres, AA Thousand Acres Pammy
1998 Halloween H20: 20 Years Later Molly Cartwell Nominated— Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actress
1998 Dawson's Creek Jen Lindley TV series (1998–2003)
Nominated—YoungStar Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama TV Series (1998)
Nominated—YoungStar Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama TV Series (1999)
1999 Dick Arlene Lorenzo Nominated— Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress
1999 But I'm a Cheerleader Kimberly
2000 If These Walls Could Talk 2 Linda TV film
Lucy Award for Excellence in a Motion Picture Made for Television
2001 Me Without You Holly
2001 Prozac Nation Ruby
2003 United States of Leland, TheThe United States of Leland Julie Pollard
2003 Station Agent, TheThe Station Agent Emily Nominated—Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2004 Land of Plenty Lana Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
2004 Imaginary Heroes Penny Travis
2005 Hole in One, AA Hole in One Anna Watson
2005 Baxter, TheThe Baxter Cecil Mills
2005 Brokeback Mountain Alma Beers

(Alma del Mar)

Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Rising Star Award
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female
Nominated—Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominated—Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
2007 Hawk Is Dying, TheThe Hawk Is Dying Betty
2007 Hottest State, TheThe Hottest State Samantha
2007 I'm Not There Coco Rivington
2008 Deception S
2008 Incendiary Young Mother
2008 Synecdoche, New York Claire Robert Altman Award
Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast
2008 Wendy and Lucy Wendy Carrol Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chlotrudis Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
2009 Mammoth Ellen Vidales
2010 Shutter Island Dolores Chanal Nominated— Teen Choice Awards for Thriller Movie Actress
2010 Blue Valentine Cindy Periera San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Denver Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Detroit Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
Nominated—San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
2011 Meek's Cutoff Emily Tetherow Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Actress (also for My Week With Marilyn and Take This Waltz)
2011 My Week with Marilyn Marilyn Monroe Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Actress (also for Meek's Cutoff and Take This Waltz)
2011 Take This Waltz Margot Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Actress (also for My Week With Marilyn and Meek's Cutoff)
2013 Oz: The Great and Powerful Glinda the Good Witch Filming

Further reading

See also

  • Saffron Vera Wang dress of Michelle Williams


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  6. ^ Trench, Brooke Lee Poer (January 2011), Michelle, Madison Magazine 
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  12. ^ Maytum, Matt (April 14, 2011). "My Son Is Innocent (1996)". Total Film. Future Publishing. http://www.totalfilm.com/features/the-evolution-of-michelle-williams/my-son-is-innocent-1996#content. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
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  23. ^ a b Spargo, Chris (February 19, 2011). "Could Blake Lively Be The Next Michelle Williams?". Movieline. Mail.com Media. http://www.movieline.com/2011/02/could-blake-lively-be-the-next-michelle-williams.php. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
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