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Michelle Williams: The Fresh Air Interview

Actress Michelle Williams was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in <em>Blue Valentine</em>. In <em>Meek's Cutoff</em>, she plays a bold settler named Emily Tetherow.
Matt Sayles
AP Photo
Actress Michelle Williams was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Blue Valentine. In Meek's Cutoff, she plays a bold settler named Emily Tetherow.

This interview was originally broadcast on April 14, 2011. Michelle Williams just received a Best Actress nomination for her performance inMy Week With Marilyn.

Kelly Reichardt's frontier drama Meek's Cutoffopens in the year 1845, on the wide-open plains of Oregon, where a wagon team of three families has set out on a journey along the Oregon Trail. After their guide, a suspicious man named Stephen Meek, tells them about a shortcut across the Oregon desert, the settlers, led by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, become lost.

Williams joins Fresh Air's Terry Gross for a discussion about the film, a dusty Western with long, sweeping shots of the landscape and virtually no dialogue.

Interview Highlights With Michelle Williams

On her improvisational acting opposite Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine

"I think with that kind of improvisation, the camera's there to catch it, which is why when we were working the way we were working, we never worked on the script. We never explored the scenes or the beats or talked about what it was about or what it meant. All of our world circled around it, like a line around its prey, waiting to pounce. Because you only have to get that right once — and when the camera is on, ideally."

On working on Blue Valentine

"It felt like such a rare opportunity and one that ... I know I'll probably never have again. ... I have dreamed [of] working [that way] since I was a kid because it was such a throwback. When I read all of those biographies of Marlon Brando and James Dean and this idea of the method, it was so alluring to me and it really got a hold of the 13-year-old me. So I'd had a longtime desire to experiment with that way of working, and this fulfilled it."

On rejection

"I think that's the most dangerous part [of the business] and why it's something I wouldn't want for my own daughter, family or friends, because that rejection really leaves its mark on you."

On getting a GED when she was 15

"I feel like I missed out on a good education, but it's a trade-off. The plus is that then afforded me 6.5 years of practice, of work and acting class, being on Dawson's Creek and being able to experiment and say, 'Am I better when I know all of my lines, and I've really known them?' or 'Am I better when I'm kind of off-balance a little bit because I'm tired?' It's that Malcolm Gladwell thing of 10,000 hours [to achieve proficiency in a subject]. I definitely have 10,000 hours in front of a camera, thanks to that show. So I got a different kind of education, but I do find myself — now I'm 30 — feeling frustrated with the limitations of my own mind."

On legally emancipating herself from her parents at age 15

"It was done for work. There was a notion that it makes you more appealing because you don't have to pay for a teacher or guardian on set, and you can work the same number of hours as an adult. ... It got me Dawson's Creek. All the other kids were 18, and I was 16 when I got the show. And I don't think I would have been hired had I been a minor. But there's obviously a lot of danger in that — a kid on their own on a film set [which are] very adult places."

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