interview by Douglas Eby
One of her first films was LASSIE (1994), followed by roles
in TIMEMASTER, and as the young "Sil" in SPECIES, and Michelle Williams
has gained attention more recently as teenager Jen in the TV series
In her new film HALLOWEEN:H20 (starring Jamie Lee Curtis) she plays Molly, one of the students at Keri Tate's (Curtis) private school threatened by the inevitable and seemingly unstoppable killer brother of Curtis' character.
Williams notes that Molly is based on Curtis' role in the original film: "She's smart, and independent, very parallel to Jamie's original character. She's at the school on a scholarship. Her parents don't have a whole lot of money, and she isn't really in contact with them. So she's sort of making it on her own. She's a lot different from Jamie's character now -- she's not an alcoholic, who's screwed up by her psycho serial-killer brother."
But Molly has her own difficulties, Williams points out: "Her challenges present themselves when all this [the story of the movie] starts coming down, and basically her life is flashing before her eyes. Generally, she's a demure, sweet girl, and then with the circumstances that occur, it makes her face a lot of those demons, and a lot of things she's never had to deal with, being from such a sheltered existence."
Williams was first of all attracted to the film, she notes,
by the chance to be "working with Jamie Lee. And second of all, it's a
very different character than what I play in DAWSON'S CREEK. I was
attracted to Jen for her dark side, and what she's been through and
where it's taken her and how it's affected her, and who she is because
"Those are the roles that always seem to interest me, the ones
with a past, with a depth, something lurking behind the surface that
you aren't quite sure what it is, and once the layers are peeled away,
there's this phenomenal story there."
But Molly, she has found, "is not that sort of world-weary, wise old soul. She's very young and innocent, and sort of unjaded. There's a real beauty that comes out of naiveté, and I found that interesting. And I thought it would be fun to take off and do some action stunts, and screaming. That's good for the soul, and a huge release, I'm telling you."
She had seen the first HALLOWEEN before, and was "really
impressed" with it. "I think that it was incredibly effective, and far
ahead of its time. It really is pretty much what started the whole
genre. I've seen a lot of what [Jamie Lee Curtis] is famous for, like
TRUE LIES and that sort of thing, and then I'd also seen a few other
things that impressed me, which were lesser-known, like THE HEIDI
CHRONICLES and some other stuff.
"I was really excited to work with her, and I had no idea going into it how amazing it would turn out to be, or what she was like, and she's truly a remarkable woman. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her."
Williams found Curtis inspirational in a number of ways, including her attitude and drive: "At three in the morning and everybody's energy is lagging, Jamie is always there, always up and excited and instills a sense of life and purpose into each scene. She's a phenomenal presence to have around the set."
Referring to Curtis' comments about Keri Tate being an
alcoholic and how it may be valuable to a number of people to see
characters like that portrayed with sensitivity and reality, Williams
says "I think that's one of the most interesting things about this
script. In a lot of slasher scripts I've read or seen recently, there
isn't a whole lot of character development, because, mainly, it's a
"But it really impressed me in this how much they fleshed out her character, and how interested I was, and how much I cared what was going on with her."
Asked if she enjoys the experience of fear and seeks it in park rides or scary movies or anything else, Williams says "I do it every day driving in Los Angeles. Absolutely, I think that's what is great about this film is that it's a rush. And it's pure, unadulterated, fabulous escapism. And we all need that. Whether you get it through books, through music, through film, it's an absolutely necessity in life."
Like a number of talented actors, Williams was in an Advanced
Placement program in high school, and graduated early (at age 15). She
also did independent study: "It was great, because I could work at my
own pace, and it was completely uninterrupted, and I finished three
years in eight months or something."
Part of her interest in acting is from a love of literature, Williams notes: "For as long as I can remember, my father read voraciously to me when I was a kid. I grew up with William Faulkner and all these great, fabulous books, and I always wanted to be in those worlds.
"And daily, growing up, I lived in these fantasies of
whatever it was, "Anna Karenina" or you name it, and I wanted to be
there. So it was sort of a natural progression to want to become an
actress, to live that out."
Asked if she still finds time to read, she says "Oh yes. Whether it means I don't get any sleep, it's a huge part of my life. I think it's really balancing. It's been the most enlightening thing, and being read to as a child is the best thing that could happen to me."
Referring again to what interested her about creating Molly, she recalls Jamie Lee Curtis' role in the first film: "I was really drawn to her intellect, and how sharp she was, and that she wasn't the helpless victim. She stood up and kicked ass. And [for me] it's living out another fantasy, it's being an action hero, and that's one facet that interests me, but now I've done that, and now I get to go do whatever else it is I want to live out."
Williams admits that Molly may not have the depth of character development that other films, or even Curtis' role has. She is candid about the nature of the project: "We're making a horror film. This isn't the time for it to be SLING BLADE. The objective here is to scare the pants off the audience, and going into [my character's] family life and whatever tormented in her childhood, isn't going to scare you."
She has just started working on the political comedy DICK, a genre she had never done, and says "it's something that's always frightened me, so I felt it was a challenge to take on." She stars with Kirsten Dunst: "She's fabulous" exclaims Williams, who also appreciates director Andrew Fleming (THE CRAFT): "He's really bright, really insightful."
The fan mail response to her DAWSON'S CREEK role, she notes,
is mostly from prisons: "That seems to be my big draw. I get a lot of
inmate mail, I get a lot of 12-year-old boy mail, and then there's a
huge part that's teenage girls. I think between the two characters Joey
[Katie Holmes] and Jen, I think the audience that will relate to Joey
is a lot broader and wider, but there's a group of teenagers who really
empathize with Jen.
"The group is a lot smaller, because Joey sort of represents almost a typification of high school angst. But I've gotten some very specific personal letters from teenage girls who absolutely get Jen, and really understand her. That's been great, really affirmative."
Like many actors who are in the business from a love of
acting, Williams has done live theater work, and asked if she'd like to
do more, even with such a growing film career, she immediately responds
affirmatively: "I'd forgotten about it for quite a while" she says,
"and then a month ago I was doing something up on stage, and I
remembered why I got into this, and what it was that fired me up about
doing this work.
"I love doing stage, and on hiatus I'd rather go work for a hundred bucks a week in some gritty, dirty theater. I'd love to have an opportunity like that."
Comparing the process of filmmaking, with the chance to try different takes of a character, and its typical non-linear production of the story, Williams notes that in both film and stage "You have to keep a consistent thread going through the character. You can make different choices as long as it sticks with that through-line, and you can add nuances, as long as it stays true to that. So I think both are great mediums to explore, and to grow, and to make unusual, risky choices."
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[edited version published in Femme Fatales, November, 1998]
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