Michelle Williams: Out of her comfort zone

By Tim Lewis

Michelle Williams talks about the dangers of high heels, the charms of Ryan Gosling, and nudity in her new movie, Take This Waltz.

People might see that your new film, Take This Waltz, also stars Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman and think it's a comedy. They'd be really wrong. It's actually quite upsetting ...

I gave the script to a friend of mine and I said, "I'm going to make a comedy! I'm so excited." She sat down to read it and an hour later I walk in and she was crying on the couch and said, "Michelle, when am I going to get to the funny part?"

We should explain: your character Margot is married to Lou (Rogen), who's this tremendously sweet and decent guy, but they slowly drift apart. He writes cookbooks that only contain recipes for chicken - that's a metaphor for the relationship, right?

Comforting and bland, yes. Always tastes the same, no matter how you cook it.

Lou and Margot engage in a fair amount of baby talk with each other. Where do you stand on that personally?

I've never done it, I don't think. Maybe when you have a kid ... You know what it is? It's the pattern you get into in a relationship, whether it's bad jokes or innuendoes, it's just this habit, this thing you only do with this one other person. If anybody heard it, it would be humiliating. But, in any relationship, if you put a spycam on it for two hours there's a lot of embarrassing stuff that's going to come out.

People will recognise it in their own relationships?

Exactly. I do enjoy embarrassment, it is my favourite kind of humour. But the idea, personally, of being embarrassed in public, that's the worst possible thing I can imagine. Horrible. That's why I really don't enjoy wearing high heels; they up the possibility for embarrassment tenfold. I try not to wear white because that's just asking for it. I don't wear glasses because someone can knock them off and that makes you vulnerable. I try to walk around with some kind of armour. I'm still trying to figure out if I'm a baby-talker or not.

Would you agree Margot is confused?

Yeah, there is something infantile about Margot, something stuck. There used to be this really great line in the movie where she watches a couple of 19-year-old girls and says, "Ah, when I looked like that I didn't appreciate it and now that I appreciate it, I don't look like that any more". Basically you spend your 20s trying to run away from your sexuality and then you get to your 30s and you're like, "Whoa! Wait a minute, I could really use those tits, come back! I could really use that body but now I'm in a different body - great". It's one of those funny jokes life plays on you.

Do you feel like that yourself?

I understand the sense of it but I feel pretty accepting, like, "Yeah, it's a good body, it's done good things, it's gotten me here, it hasn't failed me yet".

You mention feeling comfortable with your body - there's a shower scene in Take This Waltz that's really the crux of the movie. How hard was it to shoot that?

I agree, the nudity is not the crux of the movie but the ideas inside of it are. None of us wanted to do it, us three ladies, Sarah [Silverman], Jennifer [Podemski] and I. How do I describe it? I imagine it's like the moment before you jump out of a plane safely with a parachute. You have to do it, you've paid to go up in the plane, you've got the backpack strapped on and there's other people in line, you know you're going to do it. It's just that moment before you jump that's terrifying. But boy oh boy, it was in a way a lot easier doing that shower scene than the shower scene in Blue Valentine. It's easier to be naked with girls than boys.

I've only just got over Blue Valentine, your 2010 film that detailed the collapse of another relationship. I was broken for weeks after watching that.

I think I've only recently got over Blue Valentine. I was broken for a couple of years after that. That one cut really close to the bone because of the way that we worked, the way the director had us rehearse but never rehearse, we just kind of lived together, so things that aren't real felt very real. Yes, that one took a while.

Instead of rehearsal, you basically lived with Ryan Gosling and your daughter in the film for a month. Who did the cooking and things like that?

Ryan's a great cook, he's really good at improvising. He said something sweet when we were in that rehearsal period. He did a lot of the cooking and a lot of the dishes, and I think finally I said to him, "Ryan, this isn't how it goes. This doesn't feel real to me". And he said, "I know, Michelle, but you have a home and a kid. You're cooking when you go home so I feel bad making you do it here too".

I'm asking for the men out there: is there anything Ryan Gosling doesn't do well?

I am left wondering the same thing. Oooohh, ummm, errrr! I really can't think of anything.

You play a lot of messed-up characters. Are these roles that come to you or do you gravitate towards them?

It's a funny thing: do you get the roles you're meant for, is there a fate in them? I don't know. It's a bigger question of how the world works, which I don't know about yet. I wish I did.

How do you pick your roles?

I'm a person who needs a lot of time. I make these movies but I've had a tremendous amount of time to prepare for them and a tremendous amount of time between projects to decompress and go back to my life. So I don't work a lot, because I have a child and a life outside of work that I'm devoted to. So when I do make a decision to work, it can't be a whim. It has to have a lot going for it.

- Observer

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