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Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams’ range of talents and experience have shaped her career to the point where she has become one of Hollywood’s most sought‐after and respected actors. In the second film debut by Sarah Polley, ‘Take This Waltz,’ Michelle Williams plays the main character, Margot, who is lost when she falls into an erotic love affair with her neighbor. The problem: Margot is already happily married to a cookbook writer, Lou (Seth Rogen). Michelle Williams discusses playing the role and her excitement about working with Sarah Polley.
When the story begins, Margot, 28, is a writer who has not written much. Her husband is a cook, creating recipes for an all chicken cookbook. Lou, coming from a solid, supportive family, is kind and adorable. “Lou makes her feel contained,” Williams observed. “He makes her feel cozy, safe, secure and a little drowsy. Take This Waltz is about Margot on the threshold of moving from being a girl, where it is safe, to a woman, where there are no guarantees. It’s like she’s trying to hang onto something she’s losing her grasp on ‐ all subconsciously of course.”
A two‐time Oscar‐nominee, Williams is more apt to emotionalize her roles rather than intellectualize them. After working with Seth Rogen, she had a heartfelt reaction to how their characters interact. “Knowing him and seeing his performance, I thought, ‘How am I going to walk away from this marriage? He’s so loveable!’ Yet, looking out at the world from Margot’s viewpoint, she wonders if she’s missing out on life and if something’s going to pass her by. Margot feels stuck. She’s not doing exactly what she wants to be doing. She’s not writing exactly what she wants to be writing.” In building this character, Costume Designer Lea Carlson found there to be something gentle and slightly quirky about her, but intentionally didn’t want her to be too sweet. She just slips on a pair of sneakers and, Margot being Margot, everything looks cool in a haphazard, unplanned way.
Contentment can be as deceptive as desire. When Daniel comes along, Williams sees it as being like a shot of adrenaline for Margot. “I think that falling in love is the closest thing to a religious experience that you can have in Western culture,” she professed. “It’s such a gentle thing that causes such a great upheaval in your life, rearranging your morals and your values.” It certainly was the justification Margot used to motivate herself forward, but whether it was real, or simply real enough for her, is the question because Daniel becomes the vehicle for her hopes and dreams and ambitions. “It’s like Daniel is a place for Margot to put it all,” explained Williams.
It is here where the magic of performance becomes genuine because both actor and character embrace the freedom of ambiguity Polley has written into the script and move forward with optimistic hope. Williams shied away from verbalizing how Margot makes her final decision, instead saying, “Does she want more or is she writing it off as something sexual that she wants to explore with Daniel? I hope she’s following her heart, her best heart, her most noble heart. We don’t know if it’s a mistake or not.” The question is, does anyone ever know.
“Margot evolved inside me slowly,” acknowledged Williams. “To me, Margot starts out the movie as an innocent. At first I wondered if she was someone to whom nothing bad had ever happened, and this breakup was her first kind of experience into her shadow‐self. Maybe it was her walk on the wild side. But that evolved and now I don’t think she’s entirely naïve ‐ but she does have a kind of unworldly‐ness about her so that this experience is a transformation. That’s a good thing, but it’s transformation through fire, which is painful.”
Seth Rogen, whose movie relationships have typically been about either meeting or breaking up with a girl, found the ‘happily married’ relationship completely novel. “It was really interesting pretending to be married to someone all day. It’s amazing how easy it is when you’re allowed to be comfortable with yourself when the cameras are rolling ‐ and how awkward it becomes the second they stop rolling. But Michelle made it as easy as it could be, and she’s just 100% real at all times. Because it feels kind of real at times and Michelle’s so nice, it just sucks to have to even pretend to not get along with her.”
Prior to ‘Take This Waltz,’ Michelle has what some would call an interesting, albeit imaginary relationship with Sarah Polley. “This has really has been sort of a dream come true. I told Sarah “You know what I do sometimes before I act, before I met you? I do WWSPD: What Would Sarah Polley Do?” You know when you’re on take #10 of a scene and you still haven’t found your way in, nothing’s clicking, and you’re calling upon the gods for some sort of help? One of my pull‐it‐out‐the‐bag things is, ‘How would Sarah Polley do this scene? What would she do?’”
Even from afar, the respect was reciprocated. Polley assessed the talent of Michelle Williams succinctly, “I think Michelle is the greatest actor of her generation and that’s not a superlative. What I learned from working with her is the difference between good actors and great actors: great actors don’t just surprise their directors or their audience ‐ they surprise themselves. Something about their character blindsides them in the middle of a take and their performance spins off a bit in an incredible, unforeseen direction.” So transcendent was Williams’ performance that Polley was better able to understand the character she created, and, as a result, was able to allow Margot to travel further in her emotional journey. “Michelle has such wisdom about her, such poetry about her, it was hard to keep a character in the same place if it is Michelle who is playing her.”
Image Courtesy of Take This Waltz