Michelle Williams plays Gwen Verdon in the drama, Fosse/Verdon, also starring Sam Rockwell as director-choreographer Bob Fosse. She talks with Lucy Ewen

What appealed to you most about this role?

It combines a lot of things I Iove: singing, dancing, Broadway theatre and live performance; an actor that I love - Sam Rockwell - and a woman that I've come to know and understand. I was really excited to play her. It was all of these things. It all added up to a really easy yes for me.

Women are making a move and striving to get what's theirs. Was that a
consideration when you went for this project?

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I knew it was what I wanted to push towards. Right before I got this job, I read Abby Wambach's commencement speech. It made such an impression; it will make you get out the box of Kleenex. It was a pivotal piece of writing for me and put into much better words than I ever could, how I felt about where I'd been and where I wanted to go. At some point she says something along the lines of "It's my turn, give me the ball, give me the f***ing ball", and that's essentially what I said in my meeting for this show. I was like: "I want the ball. Give me the ball, and let me play it down the field, I'm ready." I knew that I wanted this for myself and for my growth as a person and as an actress.

Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell Fosse/Verdon. Photo / Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell Fosse/Verdon. Photo / Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

As a woman and a mother, how does it feel seeing where actresses are headed and what they're doing for the industry?

I knew that this job would be challenging for me as an actress. What I didn't know was that it would be the first job where I was given equal pay. So that came as a very nice surprise. They were transparent about it and said: "We're going to pay you what we pay Sam." I was shocked, I was totally shocked.

It's such an interesting journey, ageing. Now I'm in my late 30s I'm getting to a place where you can, first of all, identify the thing you want, second of all, believe in yourself enough that you can achieve the thing that you want and, third of all, be bold enough to ask for it. I couldn't have done this at 28, I could only do this at 38, so I'm excited to feel that kind of strength and mobility that comes with ageing.

I really feel this change among women, I feel the way we're all collaborating now and listening to each other and seeing where we can help each other and how we can advance as a whole.

You're on a career roll at the moment it seems?

I'm definitely making things up as I go. I ask myself all the time: "Is this what I want to do right now?" The decision always has two parts: does it work for me, does it work for my family? Truth is, if it doesn't work for my family, it's probably not going to work for me because it's so agitating as a mother to not be available and present in the way that you want to be. But I also love what I do, which is another added benefit of time: that experience makes you stronger and more agile, so to be living with the benefit of that is very rewarding, having done this since I was 12 or something, and then to finally feel the flexibility or freedom, it's fun to play.

Michelle Williams with Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.
Michelle Williams with Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.

Why is it important for you to work in New York City?

New York City is where I live and I will do just about anything to stay at home. So if that's a movie, if that's a play, I try to adapt what I do to these mediums so that I can work from home. The Greatest Showman shot here, Broadway is here, this job was here, I will truly do anything to stay at home. To the point where I'd never done Broadway before, I'd never done a musical before, I'd never done a straight play on Broadway, but I took on the learning of it so that I could stay here, and in doing it, I discovered that I really loved it because there's a lot of joy in it. There's a childlike aspect to singing and dancing, it turns off your critical mind and you get lost in the flow of the song or the number and that's pretty blissful.

Do you have a favourite Broadway musical?

I'm very partial to Cabaret. I really love that one.

THE LOWDOWN: Fosse/Verdon: episodes available now on Sky Go and NEON