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Michelle Williams Defends Jeremy Strong Against Method Acting Backlash: ‘He Takes His Work Seriously’

Showing Up Movie Cannes
Courtesy of Allyson Riggs

Michelle Williams is speaking out in defense of her friend Jeremy Strong after the “Succession” star was the subject of a New Yorker profile that examined his intense approach to acting. That piece, which was published in December, documented the extremes that Strong was willing to take in order to create his performances, including asking to be tear-gassed for a scene in “Trial of the Chicago 7.”

The blowback to the story was intense — both from supporters of the actor, who claimed it misrepresented his commitment to his craft, as well as from detractors who believed it was an example of Method acting taken to self-indulgent extremes. For Williams, the portrait painted by the New Yorker didn’t capture Strong’s talent or his generous spirit.

“I think that unfortunately the word ‘method’ has become a buzzy one because of what happened to Jeremy Strong when he tried to describe his process,” Williams says. “He takes his work as seriously as he takes his play.”

After Williams’ former partner Heath Ledger died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2008, Strong, another friend and the actress’s sister and her boyfriend all moved into her Brooklyn home. There, Strong played an important role in helping Williams and Ledger’s daughter Matilda cope with the tragedy.

“Jeremy was serious enough to hold the weight of a child’s broken heart and sensitive enough to understand how to approach [her] through play and games and silliness,” Williams says.

The New Yorker profile made a point of noting that before Strong had made it as an actor and was struggling financially he nevertheless had a”…closet of incongruously high-end clothes; he had a Dries Van Noten suit and a Costume National hoodie that he wore to shreds, but few essentials.” Williams, who met Strong in 2004 while they were both performing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, doesn’t deny that the actor had a taste for that kind of clothing, though she places it a much different context.

“It’s true that his clothes were always designer, but he had only one sweater and two t-shirts and they were torn at the neck because he would play ponies with my daughter and let her ride on his back and use his clothing as reins,” Williams says. “So he walked around with his beautiful things ruined and he never thought twice about it and he never told her to stop.”

“[Matilda] didn’t grow up with her father but she grew up with her Jeremy and we were changed by his ability to play as though his life depended on it, because hers did,” Williams adds.

Williams says it was difficult to read the New Yorker piece.

“We’ve all been in awe of his talent,” says Williams. “We’ve watched him work harder than anyone and wait a long time for other people to recognize it. So when he became so celebrated, we all celebrated.”

The blowback that Strong received — the social media mockery and think pieces it inspired — has made Williams rethink her own relationship to the press.

“I feel open and I feel very trusting, but I also know that there are things that I shouldn’t talk about because they are too private and they are too hard,” she says. “But now when I’m rambling on about my work or my process, I wonder if that should stay in the vault. But I also love Jeremy so much. So even though this period took place during the time that I don’t talk about, I wanted to share it, because it takes a very special person to play with a child the way that Jeremy did.”

As for her chosen profession, Williams isn’t sure if she’s a Method actress or not.

“I don’t really know what kind of an actor I am, other than someone who will try anything to achieve a desired results,” she says.

Williams spoke with Variety for a cover story tied to the Cannes debut of her new film “Showing Up.”