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Michelle Williams (actress)

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Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Williams at the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego
Born Michelle Ingrid Williams
(1980-09-09) September 9, 1980 (age 35)
Kalispell, Montana U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1993–present
Partner(s) Heath Ledger (2004–07)
Children Matilda Ledger
Relatives Larry Richard Williams (father)

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 The WB television teen drama Dawson's Creek, which she played from 1998 to 2003. Williams graduated to full-length features, including Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Dick (1999), and Prozac Nation (2001).

From the 2000s, Williams appeared primarily in dramatic, independent films for which she has received critical acclaim. One of her career highlights was Brokeback Mountain (2005), which earned Williams a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Academy Awards for her role as the wife of Ennis Del Mar. She followed this 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) garnered her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn (2011), which also garnered her third Academy Award nomination. In 2014 she made her Broadway debut in a revival of Cabaret as Sally Bowles.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Kalispell, Montana, the daughter of Carla Ingrid (née Swenson), and Larry Richard Williams. Her parents are separated, and she has one sister, Paige, and three half-siblings.[1][2] Her mother is a homemaker, and her father is an author, stock and commodities trader, and two-time Republican candidate for the United States senate.[3][4][5][6][7] Williams is of Norwegian, English, German, Danish, Swiss, Swedish, Scottish, and Welsh descent.[8][9][10] As a child, she 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."[11] When Williams was nine, her family moved to San Diego, California.[7] She became interested in acting at an early age when she saw a local production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.[12]



Williams began her career in the early 1990s by making guest appearances in television programs such as Step by Step and Home Improvement. In 1993, she portrayed the role of Bridget Bowers in Baywatch.[13][14] The actress debuted in the adventure film Lassie (1994).[15] In Species, she played a role as the younger version of Sil, an alien-human who quickly grows up to become the monster character played by Natasha Henstridge.[13] 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 (1997), where she plays a member of Susan's (played by Amy Jo Johnson) geek clique.[13]

At age 15, with her parents' approval, she filed for emancipation from them, so she could[11] better pursue her acting career and not have to worry about child labor work laws.[16] After completing the ninth grade at the Upper School of Santa Fe Christian Schools, in Solana Beach, California,[17] she left school because of severe bullying.[11] Subsequently, Williams was home-tutored by her father and later graduated with a GED from a correspondence school.[12]

She moved to Los Angeles and quickly secured a prominent role in Dawson's Creek.[16] Williams said later that she thought she knew all she needed to know since age 15.[18] She said in 2011 that she chose emancipation as she was influenced by other young actors doing it.[19] In 1997, unhappy with the roles they were being offered, Williams and several actor friends wrote a script entitled Blink. It was sold, but nothing happened with it.[20]

A starring role alongside James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson in hit teen TV drama, Dawson's Creek (1998–2003), helped raise them to prominence.[15] At age 17, Williams portrayed Jen Lindley, to whom she related because 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.[21] In an interview with USA Today, she described her character as "this stable, happy-go-lucky girl still wrestling with demons."[15] She said that being on Creek enabled her to choose her projects,[18][22] and has stated that

Being on a show like Dawson's Creek for so long 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.[23]

Williams continued to perform in films as well. Her first mainstream production was in the slasher film Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).[13] It was a financial success, making $55 million against its $17 million budget.[24] With Kirsten Dunst, Williams co-starred in the comedy Dick (1999). The movie is a parody, recounting the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.[25] She began to do more challenging work,[26] starting with a small part in But I'm a Cheerleader, directed by Jamie Babbit.[27]

Commodity Trading

Following in her father's footsteps, in 1997 Williams entered the Robbins World Cup Championship of Futures Trading which she won by turning $10,000 into more than $100,000. With a return of 900%, Williams is currently ranked as the third highest winner of the competition since it began in 1984.[28][29]


She appeared in the HBO television movie sequel If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000). Divided into three separate sections, it follows lesbian couples in different time periods. Williams and Chloë Sevigny appeared in the second segment, which revealed bitter divisions in the feminist movement during 1972. While Entertainment Weekly critic, Ken Tucker, praised Sevigny, he said Williams had overdone her character's "grinning eagerness to be naughty".[30]

From then on, Williams began to work in independent features, which attracted smaller audiences. "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."[15] For Me Without You (2001), Williams co-starred with Anna Friel.[31] The movie's reception was split, with review aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes, reporting it to have a 66 percent rating based on 65 reviews.[32] Next was Prozac Nation (2002), starring Christina Ricci and based on the autobiography of the same name by Elizabeth Wurtzel. It dealt with her struggle with major depression.[33] 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."[11]

The next year she had a role in The United States of Leland (2003), as the grieving sister of a murdered boy.[34] Reviews were mostly negative, with The Globe and Mail‍ '​s Liam Lacey calling it "neither an insightful nor well-made film."[35] Williams rounded out the year in The Station Agent. A dramedy, it follows a dwarf Fin (Peter Dinklage), who lives in an abandoned train depot, and starts a friendship with a librarian played by Williams. All the cast members, including Bobby Cannavale and Patricia Clarkson, were nominated for an Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a motion picture.[36]

After Creek ended in 2003, Williams admitted having difficulty finding the right roles, and said she was seen as a "pop tart".[22] That year, she played Varya in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard with Jessica Chastain and Linda Emond at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.[37]

Wim Wenders wrote the film Land of Plenty (2004), which investigates anxiety and disillusionment in a post-9/11 America, with Williams in mind.[38] She played Lana, a worker in a homeless shelter trying to contact her troubled Vietnam veteran uncle (John Diehl).[39] The 2006 Independent Spirit Awards nominated her for Best Actress.[40]

She next appeared in Imaginary Heroes (2005), about the effect a son's suicide has on his suburban family.[41] It made less than $300,000 worldwide in ticket sales.[42] With Meat Loaf, she starred as an impressionable young woman fixated on mental health in A Hole in One, a period piece that was the 2005 feature film debut of Richard Ledes and generally ignored.[43]

In a rare comedy turn, she starred in The Baxter alongside writer/director Michael Showalter.[44][45] The film received mostly negative reviews, but critics praised Williams. "Only when Williams is around does the movie seem human, true, and funny: Even in her slapstick there's pain," wrote The Boston Globe reporter Wesley Morris. "She's almost too good: It's not until she's left a scene that you realize the movie isn't working."[46] Released on August 26, Showalter's movie made $37,000 opening weekend before going on to gross over $180,000 domestically.[47]

Williams gained public recognition for Brokeback Mountain, a film directed by Ang Lee that depicts the homosexual relationship between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal).[48] Williams plays Ennis' wife Alma, who becomes aware of the true nature of his and Jack's relationship when she sees them in an embrace. After viewing The Station Agent, casting director Avy Kaufman suggested to Lee that he cast Williams as Alma.[49] The film was a box office hit, grossing around $178 million worldwide in ticket sale revenue against its $14 million production costs.[50] The film received eight nominations, the most for any film that year, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Williams, and it won three accolades at the 78th Academy Awards.[51] 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.[52]


Williams returned with The Hawk Is Dying (2007), also starring Michael Pitt. Its story tells of George (played 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.[53] The film made $7,000 domestically playing at one theater.[54] 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.[55][56] 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.[57] It did a limited theatrical run on August 24, ultimately grossing $137,340.[58] Williams played Edie Sedgwick, muse of Andy Warhol, as a part of the biographical ensemble piece I'm Not There, inspired by the musician Bob Dylan.[59] In October 2006, she signed on to play a blonde known as S, who seduces Ewan McGregor's character in Deception (2008), originally called The Tourist.[60] Williams and McGregor worked together again in Incendiary, about the aftermath of a terrorist attack at a football game, based on Chris Cleaves's 2005 book of the same name.[61] 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.[62]

Impressed by her work in Dick,[38] the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman cast Williams in his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, with a cast featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson. A box office bomb,[63] it was praised in the media, appearing on many top ten critics' lists for 2008.[64] Wendy and Lucy, an acclaimed small-budget, 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.[65][66] Unlike others, including the director, Williams did not find the film depressing. "Personally I like seeing those kinds of movies. I find them comforting because they make me feel less alone." As the lead actress of Wendy and Lucy, she enjoyed the documentary style of the film.[65] Houston Chronicle writer Amy Blancolll said her performance, "a bare-bones accomplishment of no small heft," was the movie's key.[66] The Toronto Film Critics Association Awards named Williams and the film 2008's Best Actress and Best Movie.[67]

Filming for Mammoth (2009) took Williams to locations in Sweden, Thailand and the Philippines.[68] She and Gael García Bernal played the co-leads: a successful couple dealing with issues related to modern day globalization. It was director Lukas Moodysson's first English-language movie and found distribution through IFC Films.[68][69]

Williams at the 84th Annual Academy Awards Red Carpet 2012

Martin Scorsese cast the actress in the supporting role, of the dead wife haunting the dreams of marshal Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in Shutter Island,[70] a psychological thriller based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 best-selling novel by the same name. Originally due out in October 2009, its release date was bumped to February 19, 2010.[71] With $41.1 million in ticket sales at over 2,900 locations, Shutter Island gave Williams her widest release and best opening weekend stats.[72] In December, she starred opposite Gosling as a struggling married couple in the romantic drama Blue Valentine. The filmmaker Derek Cianfrance made Williams and Gosling live together during the day for a month to get into character.[73] She later said that the experience was great and wished she had appreciated it more.[74] Shown at 2010's Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival, the movie was a hit among critics.[75][76] Both actors were lauded with praise and awards attention.[77][78] "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.[79] Her performance as Cindy, who has grown tired of her husband's lack of direction and addictions, was 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 the frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through a desert.[80] 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.[81][82]

Williams was cast over Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, and Amy Adams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, a British drama film based on two novels by Colin Clark, depicting the making of the film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).[83][84] 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 to pass-up.[85] Williams took vocal lessons so she could sing in the movie, as lip-syncing was uncomfortable.[86] Williams won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance.[87] Her next performance was 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.[18][88] Williams co-starred with James Franco in Walt Disney Pictures's Oz the Great and Powerful, a 3-D prequel released March 8, 2013.[89] She has signed to do a sequel to the film.[90][91] In July 2013, she became the new face of Louis Vuitton handbags.[92]

Williams was featured in the music video for Wild Nothings Paradise featured on the 2012 album Nocturne

Williams made her Broadway debut in the revival of Cabaret, in the role of Sally Bowles. The production opened on April 24, 2014 and she ended her run on November 9, 2014.[93] Also in 2014, she will star in the feature film adaptation of the World War II biopic novel Suite Française, in which she plays Lucile Angellier, a French villager who falls in love with Bruno von Falk, a German soldier played by Matthias Schoenaerts.[94]

Personal life[edit]

An image of a smiling Caucasian woman. She has her blonde hair in a ponytail and is wearing a one shouldered white dress with a black horizontal stripe.
Williams in 2010 at the Berlin International Film Festival for the premiere of Shutter Island

Williams began dating Australian actor Heath Ledger, her Brokeback Mountain co-star, in 2004 after meeting on the set of their film.[11][95][96] In late April 2005 People first reported that Williams and Ledger were expecting a child together. On October 28, 2005, Williams gave birth to their daughter Matilda Rose Ledger.[15]

During Williams and Ledger's time together, they lived together in Brooklyn, New York.[49] By September 2007, the couple amicably ended their three-year relationship.[97] 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."[15] After Ledger's death from a combined drug intoxication (CDI) in January 2008, the usually under-the-radar actress and her daughter became an interest of the media and were often followed by paparazzi.[21][38] As a result, Williams rarely gave interviews until the end of 2009.[98]

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, who looks like him.[99] Later that month she attended his memorial and funeral services.[100]

In July 2008, seven months after the death of Ledger, Williams began dating director Spike Jonze. They met on the set of Synecdoche, New York, which Williams starred in and Jonze produced. Williams called the timing of their relationship "impossible", and ended it in September 2009.[101] Williams dated director Cary Fukunaga briefly in 2011.[102] Williams was in a relationship with actor Jason Segel for about a year from 2012 to 2013.[103][104] In May 2013, it was reported that she was dating artist Dustin Yellin. The two split up in May 2014.[105] In July 2015, it was reported that Williams had begun dating author Jonathan Safran Foer.[106]



Year Title Role Notes
1994 Lassie April Porter Nominated – Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress Co-Starring in a Motion Picture
1995 Timemaster Annie
1995 Species Young Sil
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
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
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
2004 Land of Plenty Lana Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead
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 del Mar
2006 Hawk Is Dying, TheThe Hawk Is Dying Betty
2006 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
2008 Wendy and Lucy Wendy Carrol
2009 Mammoth Ellen Vidales
2010 Blue Valentine Cindy Heller Also executive producer
2010 Shutter Island Dolores Chanal Nominated – Teen Choice Awards for Thriller Movie Actress
2011 Meek's Cutoff Emily Tetherow The Invisible Woman Award[citation needed]
Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Actress
2011 My Week with Marilyn Marilyn Monroe
2012 Take This Waltz Margot
2013 Oz the Great and Powerful Annie / Glinda Nominated – Teen Choice Award for Choice Actress Sci-Fi/Fantasy
2015 Suite Française Lucille Angellier
2016 Manchester-by-the-Sea Post-production
2016 Untitled Kelly Reichardt project Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1993 Baywatch Bridget Bowers Episode: "Race Against Times: Part 1"
1994 Step by Step J.J. Episode: "Something Wild"
1995 Home Improvement Jessica Lutz Episode: "Wilson's Girlfriend"
1996 My Son Is Innocent Donna Movie
1997 Killing Mr. Griffin Maya Movie
1998–2003 Dawson's Creek Jen Lindley Main role; 118 episodes
Nominated – YoungStar Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama TV Series (1998–99)
2000 If These Walls Could Talk 2 Linda Lucy Award for Excellence in a Motion Picture Made for Television
2013 Cougar Town Laurie's Foster Sister Episode: "Blue Sunday"


Year Title Role Notes
1999 Killer Joe Dottie April 20, 1999 – June 13, 1999 at The SoHo Playhouse[107]
2002 Smelling a Rat Melanie-Jane May 7, 2002 – June 16, 2002 at Samuel Beckett Theatre[108]
2004 The Cherry Orchard Varya August 11, 2004 – August 22, 2004 at Williamstown Theatre Festival[109]
2014 Cabaret Sally Bowles March 11, 2014 – November 9, 2014 at Studio 54 (Broadway debut)[110]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michelle Williams interview retrieved 3/8/2015
  2. ^ "Michelle Williams Biography (1980-)". Retrieved January 16, 2013. 
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  5. ^ "This Day in History – September 9". The Jamaica Observer. September 9, 2010. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
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  8. ^ "Michelle Williams". Ethnic Celebs. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
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  10. ^ Trench, Brooke Lee Poer (January 2011), "Michelle", Madison Magazine 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]