For Michelle Williams, there's still that certain subject hovering over any media appearance. It's at least part of the reason why paparazzi relentlessly hound the three-time Oscar nominee, like they had done earlier on the morning that I met her.
I had no intention of bringing up that subject -- Williams has already spoken about Heath Ledger at length in the past -- but she had no idea what to expect from our interview. Or any interview, really. In other words: the notoriously media-shy Michelle Williams has every right in the world to be guarded -- something that doesn't exactly make my job any easier. As it turns out, however, I shouldn't have been worried.
Williams stars in "Take This Waltz," a romantic drama about a young woman (Williams), who begins to stray from her seemingly happy marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen) after meeting her handsome neighbor (Luke Kirby). Directed by Sarah Polley, "Take This Waltz" is full of relatable relationship themes, as well as the greatest use ever of the amusement park ride The Scrambler and The Buggles song "Video Killed the Radio Star."
Ahead, an open, jovial and -- at times -- feisty Williams discusses "Take This Waltz," why "Dawson's Creek" did not define her career, and hints that you may just see her guest star on "Cougar Town" in the near future.
I just met you, yet now I'm going to start asking you questions.
It's odd, isn't it? It's totally bizarre.
It is bizarre.
And then we all sign up for it. It's so bizarre.
I admit, I get nervous.
Me, too. Me, too. And then I always walk this weird line of wanting to say things that are honest, but then realizing that there's actually nothing that you can say that's completely honest. So, it's kind of misrepresentation. I was watching this conversation that Joseph Campbell was having with -- I'm going to forget his name, but an old time journalist -- and he said something to the effect of that there's three types of things to talk about: The types of things that you can talk about; the kinds of things that you can't aptly describe, but you try to talk about; then there's the things that you actually talk about. So, I feel like an interview is a fourth step down from that [laughs].
Well, with that: I enjoyed your movie.
Though, I'm going to love any movie that features the song "Video Killed the Radio Star" so prominently.
The greatest use of that song.
Though, I've never been so depressed while listening to The Buggles before.
I know, I didn't know that it was a sad song until I made that movie. It feels so melancholy! I actually walked into a kids' first grade classroom recently and they're all sitting around in a circle playing "Video Killed the Radio Star." I'm like, but that's a sad song! But it's not. It's such a great song.
It's interesting that it would be taught in a class.
Was it playing when you filmed the scene?
Yeah, that was the song that we were listening to on a loop while we were on that ride. And that ride, [director] Sarah Polley and I share a feeling about that ride. And we've talked a lot about why we are both so obsessed with The Scrambler. I went back to The Scrambler -- I rode that thing all day long for an entire day. I went back a few weeks later on a weekend to ride The Scrambler again, because I wanted to feel that high. And Sarah and I kind of figured, maybe it's putting too much on it with the plot, but we've both been working since we were so young and we've had this shortened childhood. And whenever you can catch that feeling again, you feel like a kid, but with all of the gratitude and the knowingness of an adult. The combination of that is so exhilarating. And something like The Scrambler puts you right inside of that feeling -- we're both so inordinately nuts about that ride.
There is something depressing about watching an adult ride The Scrambler by herself.
Well, because when you don't have somebody to share it with -- like a lot of things in life -- when you don't have something to confirm, "Yes, this is fun," or, "Yes, this is scary," you don't really know what to feel. You have to make up your own darn mind.
That's an interesting point. I saw a movie last night by myself. "Ted," of all things...
Oh! What did you think?
I laughed. But I wanted to discuss it with someone.
I think that's why there's therapy, you know? And therapists. Because how do you know what to make of it until you have a conversation about it? Talking is how you figure out your brain. And how you make your thoughts clear to yourself. You have to form your opinions in relations to other people. It helps you define your position when you hear what other people think of it. And you take on what they think, or you defend your opinion about it. I think ... yeah -- it's all conversation.
I found "Take this Waltz" more depressing than "Blue Valentine."
Seth Rogen's character, Lou, seems like a really nice guy. The relationship between Margot and Lou felt very relatable.
Yeah, it doesn't have the kind of fireworks of "Blue Valentine." It's more subtle than that. I kind of thought of Margot as sleepwalking; she's a little sleepy. She could stay with her husband and have a perfectly decent life -- but with this nagging feeling of, "Did I miss something?" Where I think for Cindy and Dean in "Blue Valentine," the distance between them was so obvious you couldn't ignore it. But, I think this is the kind of thing you can ignore -- for the sake of safety or security. You're not hurting anyone. So, in a way, I don't know if it's sadder or not, but I found it more unnerving.
The dinner scene is sad. When a married couple realizes that they have nothing to talk about.
Yeah, you realize that you have nothing to say to the person. You can love somebody so much and want what's best for them and care about them so deeply, but, somehow, it doesn't work. It's not enough. Then, I think, the bigger question of the movie -- and what Sarah was interested in and what I was interested in -- is that feeling of restlessness. Is that what it feels like to be alive? Or is that what it feels like to be in the wrong relationship? And what do you do with this restlessness? Do you look outside of yourself? Or is it something that's your own journey? I read this quote when I was making the movie, it's a Buddhist quote, "Emptiness is the track that a centered person walks on." And that's a great kind of idea to hang on to, but a hard one to practice. The other thing I thought was how romantic love kind of replaces spiritual love these days. Because a relationship to God or church or something is lost. And in its place is romance.
Is that a good thing or is that a bad thing?
I don't know. it depends. It depends on how you feel about God, I guess. Or romance. So we look for our partners to kind of replace this ecstatic feeling that, maybe, human beings want to feel. Or used to feel. Or remember feeling.
That there used to be more of a feeling of, "There's something else"?
Right, "There's something else."
Working toward an afterlife...
For better or for worse. That was on my mind. And at the beginning of a relationship, it feels like ecstasy. It feels spiritual. It feels fated. And then that fades. Sometimes, I guess. I suppose all the time, maybe? I don't know.
Maybe it is all of the time.
There's a montage in this movie that, at first, I didn't know if it was real or Margot's imagination of a new life. I mean, once she was in bed with two guys, I was like, "Hm, wait a second..."
[Laughs] "Wait a second..." I think there is an element of hyper-real in the movie. I hope I'm not misinterpreting, but Sarah didn't want to make something that felt like "Blue Valentine." Not something as gritty or raw, but that had an other worldliness about it. Which may speak to that kind of disbelief. Is this real or is this heightened? And that is what falling in love feels like, a little bit. Everything is a little bit heightened.
I forget that you were on "Dawson's Creek." Which is weird because I used to watch "Dawson's Creek." I feel it's difficult for an actor to make people forget that they were ever part of a popular show like "Dawson's Creek." Yet, you did.
Was that ever a concern? Did you go out of your way to do projects that were completely different?
I think that's a compliment. I mean, I think that's what you're hoping for, too, in-between performances. "Oh, wow. How is what you're doing now related to what you did seven years ago?" I see different people in there and I think that's always what you're hoping for. I take that as a great compliment. Not that I want to distance myself from having been on that show -- it had huge value for me, professionally. Enormous value for me, personally. So, I don't mean it like that at all. But I take it as a compliment that I've grown.
Oscar nominations tend to help, too.
[Laughing] Oscar nominations do help. If there's a reason for it, if I had to try and figure out why, maybe, I was able to shed a skin -- if I was, in fact able to shed a skin -- I think I never attached very heavily to "Dawson's Creek." The outward value of it didn't cloak me -- it didn't mean a lot to me to be on a TV show or to be well known. Any of that. I always had this idea of other work that I might like to do or things that I was interested in. And it was a really cool opportunity to have this stable, safe, kind of Monday through Friday job. And to grow up with this kind of film family around you. And then, meanwhile, kind of be developing your tastes -- going to New York and see plays and going to art house cinemas. So, I kind of feel like I got to do both things at the same time. And that I always had this idea that there was this kind of work that was also called "acting" that I might like to do and, maybe, somebody, someday would let me.
Last year I spoke to James Van Der Beek. I mean, he gets it and I think he owns it now.
Yeah. And now he's doing a show in which he's playing himself.
He's come full circle with his public identity.
I actually remember something James said to me. Because the show was primarily a love triangle between Dawson, Pacey and Joey. For the most part. At times I felt, "What's not good enough about me? Am I doing something wrong?" Flipping through the script you're only in three pages, "Oh, boy. OK." And maybe I had questions about why that was. And I remember him saying, "You're going to be the luckiest of all of us. Because you're going to be able to get out unencumbered. You're going to be less identified with this show." And maybe he was right.
Very sage words!
I was only thinking about what you do in your free time because I knew I'd be talking to you. But, I couldn't think of anything other than, "something elegant."
Like, in your spare time do you see "Prometheus"? I just can't imagine you doing that, "One for 'Prometheus,' please."
[Laughing] You may be right. Maybe that would not [laughing] ... I probably won't go ... Um ...
I only associate you with prestige type films. So I can't even imagine you watching a summer blockbuster.
That's such a nice compliment, but then when you hear something about yourself, you never want to be pinned to something. So, some part of the rebellious part of me wants to say, "No! That isn't true! I have very lowbrow tastes! Just the other night I was watching 'The Real Housewives of Everything'!" But, being a parent means that you have limited time. Somebody said something to me really great, one of my best friends, but he reminds me every time we have a conversation, "People think that you should spend your time making money, but you actually spend your money making time." And it just made me think of it because there's so little time when you're a parent. So I feel like it's important to me what I do with the time. Because what I do with the free time, it forms everything else. Look, I'm not completely pure. And I fall into all of the traps of the Internet, or whatever. I like to think the thought -- I may not be able to follow it through -- but I like to think that in my spare time that I might try to see things or be influenced by things that are going to move me and make me a better person and make my life more beautiful. And that, to me, feels refreshing. That, to me, feels like a break. That, to me, feels like vegging out. Because it feeds you -- it gives you so much back. You get to be passive.
OK, I'm going to help you with your lowbrow rebellion with this: I find it fascinating that you were on an episode of "Step by Step."
Yes I was!
I believe that episode had something to do with a giant jack-o-lantern.
I was just going to say, I think it was a Halloween episode and I was dressed up like some kind of ... hussy.
Is that a good experience? Guest starring for one episode of a sitcom?
At the time I was so young and it was so exciting. It was so great to get a job because, mostly, you're just in the habit of not getting jobs -- which is a very peculiar feeling. When you're in your adolescence and forming your ideas about yourself and who you are and what your worth is, to hear, "No, no, no, no," all the time definitely sticks and gets to you. So, just to get the job, no matter what it was -- I mean, no matter what it was -- just to hear, "Yes," instead of, "No," is such a relief. But it is a strange... I remember everybody being very nice. But I remember not having any idea what I was doing. I didn't know that you were mic'd -- I mean, I had a mic on me -- but I didn't know that they were listening all of the time. You know, just singing songs and talking to myself, then having someone say, "Honey, everybody has heard enough. Cool it."
What were you singing?
I don't even remember. Just absent minded blah, blah, blah -- not realizing. Just being a novice in a pro playing field is always sort of embarrassing. You're that girl who just can't figure out the mark. "Where's the mark? Where's the mark?" You know? So, it's a little bit embarrassing. But now, my friend Busy Philipps is on a TV show and I'd really like to guest star on her show. I'd like to do a little guest spot.
Oh, "Cougar Town"?
On "Cougar Town," yeah!
Well, we've been talking about it enough that I'm sure it's going to happen.
I loved the crossover they did with "Community."
Yeah, I know! See, I really want to. I'm sure that we will at some point, I think they've got a couple more years on the show, so, I think we can find a way.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.