Slowly but surely, and with a preternatural eye toward discerning quality material, Michelle Williams has become a darling of the indie-film world. That makes her latest performance — as a Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe — such a fascinating provocation.
Just 31 years old, Williams has already received two Oscar nominations — “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and last year’s “Blue Valentine” — and may get a third for her starring turn in “My Week With Marilyn.” In the pic, directed by Simon Curtis, Williams not only gives filmgoers an eerily spot-on take on Monroe, but burrows deeply into the inner turmoil of an actress who wanted to be more than a sex symbol.
“There were two worlds: the known and the unknown,” Williams says. “Her known public persona is beyond familiar. But the unknown isn’t, so there was more room there to bring out the unsung sides of her. So I had to hit the marks of what people know about her and also bring to bare the intimate, personal side, and to make the distinction important. What we’ve come to think of her — what she was showing us — isn’t who she was.”
Channeling one’s inner Marilyn isn’t easy, Williams says.
“The part was working on me in ways that I may not have fully understood at the time,” she says. “That aspect of Marilyn and maybe having a kind of transference, it required me to summon up that energy and extra-alive quality — that glow and her ability to exist for other people. That doesn’t come naturally. It takes a real effort and is very draining.
“At the end of the week, your reserves were a little tapped out. I’m used to being very independent and doing everything for myself, which I like. But to play a goddess — though she struggled at times not to be thought of that way — you can’t have that mentality all the time. The precarious nature of fulfilling the requirements of the role meant you needed to hold people’s hands. It was strange for me.”