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:: Spotlight :: Michelle Williams Interview: Brokeback Mountain

By: Catherine Naghten

Michelle Williams has recently hit the headlines as Heath Ledger’s on and off screen love interest, but with the release of Brokeback Mountain, it’s now her stunning performance that’s got people talking. Catherine Naghten spoke to her in Melbourne recently.

How has the press been treating you?

Michelle - Me? Fine. Him? Not so good. It’s just that one paper.

There aren’t as many tabloids in Melbourne.

Michelle - That’s what I’ve been saying so far. It’s just so nice. I’ve never felt so relaxed during a day of press. Everybody’s been so respectful and not after anything salacious.

Are you enjoying Australia?

Michelle - We had a week off in Sydney and that was really nice. We’re going to a friend’s wedding and it’s just really relaxing. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s really tough on Heath though. They’re really personal [this one paper] and they’ve been tossing out that stuff like him being a spitter, and it’s so mean. It really hurts his feelings and he’s not that way at all. It’s frustrating when that kind of notion of you is out in the public. You just feel embarrassed and it’s not true. The only spitter in our house is Matilda. (Laughs)

Are you enjoying being a parent?

Michelle - Yeah, I am. I just love her; she’s a great little kid.

And does Heath do his share of getting up in the night?

Michelle - Well, Heath doesn’t have breasts, so not as much. There’s only one person she wants.

In the movie, there’s a sense of the world outside what you see in the movie and the characters. Was that apparent to you when you read the script?

Michelle - That was really palpable to me and to pick up on that it means it was expertly communicated in the dialogue and in the descriptions inherently, but not on the screen. But that was all very weird because I’m from that part of the country.

Was it strange going back to the accent you grew up with?

Michelle - Well yes, but when I told my mom about the movie and I said we have a dialect coach, she’s like “what accent?” It’s slight in Montana and Wyoming. It’s not like a southern drawl; it’s not like Fargo or anything. Just really subtle so she doesn’t feel like she has an accent. Well, this won’t mean anything, but it has long A’s that you hit really hard. Heath hears it. It’s subtle.

When did you leave Montana?

Michelle - When I was about 8 or 9 years old.

What was it like going back home?

Michelle - I didn’t really get to go back home. We went to Canada. Everything goes to Canada. But before the film started I got to take a road trip with the dialect coach through Montana and Wyoming. That was where my grandparents lived before they died. It was a very strange but stirring homecoming

I’ve heard that Ang Lee leaves you to your own devices? How did that suit you?

Michelle - Pretty well, if you lay enough groundwork that you feel comfortable and you feel safe.
You can underestimate him a little, but I’ve learnt not to do that anymore.

In a lot of his movies there’s repressed emotion and things that need to be said going unsaid. Did you feel that similarity with Crouching Tiger…, The Ice Storm?

Michelle - They touch on family and isolation, relationships. It’s amazing what he can do. Gay ranch hands from Texas are definitely a far cry from where he grew up.

Alma is wised up about what’s happening but keeps it all in without being self-deluded. Was it difficult to calibrate your performance?

Michelle - That’s a good word, calibrate. She’s choking on all the things she can’t say. You know I think she says less than he does (laughs), but I don’t think she had any delusions.

How do you unwind after the emotional scenes?

Michelle - I remember, after doing that scene in the kitchen, we were having tea and a glass of wine, and we just had to talk. Just to talk about what happened really helps to maintain a sense that someone else was there, and they saw what you saw, and they went through what you went through. Just to have somebody to bear witness to the situation.

Your next film is 'The Hawk is Dying'?

Michelle - Yeah, I did a play after Brokeback and then I did ‘The Hawk is Dying’.

So it’s already in the can?

Michelle - Yeah, That was wild. I hear it turned out well too. That Paul Giamatti is ferociously talented - it’s frightening. He’s a force of nature. But you can’t resent him for it. (Laughs) You know you want to, but you can only admire him. It’s a wild story about this man whose deepest desire is to tame a wild hawk. I play a grad student that befriends him.

Do you find roles like these help to counteract the typecasting after Dawson’s Creek?

Michelle - It's good to do something different. Besides Dawson’s Creek, everything I’ve done has been for love. There’s a little sign in this café that we go to that says, ‘Work is Love Invisible’. That’s what I do. I do what I love.