say your piece

157 13 NOVEMBER 2003
Jumping off the Studio Train
Michelle Williams Travels from 'Dawson's Creek' to 'The Station Agent'
By Jeremy Mathews
With independent films like 'The Station Agent,' starring Peter Dinklage, Michelle Williams has proven herself to be more than a WB Network clone.
The RED Interview

ichelle Williams does not want to act in mainstream film.

After working on six seasons of the WB Network’s prime-time teen soap “Dawson’s Creek,” Williams is working on the smaller, independent films like the ones she did on the side during the last four years of the show, and doesn’t plan on doing anything similar to “Dawson” for a while. Her lack of glamour comes to the surface when she says that her favorite work is her theater work because she hasn’t had to watch it.

“I can’t imagine, can’t imagine, imagine, imagine, ever doing it again,” she said of her chances for working on another TV series.

“I don’t mean to be snobby about my choices,” she said, “but I just like the scripts better, and I like the people that are involved better. Being on ‘Dawson’s Creek’ for seven years was like doing a giant blockbuster. I really have that totally out of my system. I’ve done my big movie for the rest of my life.”

Williams’s recent roles include a supporting part as a shy librarian who befriends Peter Dinklage’s train-enthusiast, shut-out dwarf in “The Station Agent,” written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. While it’s a small part, Williams performs a heartfelt bar scene with Dinklage that has much more substance than an actor often finds in an entire film.

Williams said that she doesn’t take a lot of credit for the film’s critical success, but is proud of McCarthy and the film’s stars.

McCarthy became interested in Williams through some of the side work she did while on “Dawson’s Creek.”

“I think that Tom McCarthy…saw the play that I was in and sent me the script and it took me a little while to read it. But then I got a phone call from Mary Beth Peil, who played Grams on ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ and she’s a really good friend of mine. And she said that I ‘must must must’ read it at my earliest possible chance because…I think she said that he was a genius.”

Signing up after reading the script, Williams found herself on set after much of the film had already been shot with the three leads, Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson (who won a special award at Sundance for this and two other films) and Bobby Cannavale.

Williams said that she relied heavily on these actors’ talent and insights because she was on a tight schedule. “It all happened quite quickly because I had just finished a play and I was doing ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and going out to New Jersey to do the film.”

Having never thought or dealt about dwarfism prior to the film, Williams found that Dinklage’s confidence and personality helped him with some of the alienation from society that the film portrays. “He handles it beautifully. He’s comfortable and he adjusts and he knows how to take steps to make himself comfortable and safe,” she said.

“Sometimes I’m chicken to take the lead role because I…sort of like working in miniature, in a small, intertwined way with other characters. I sort of want to do something different now.” Williams says that the two films that she just finished shooting, due out next year, feature one small, supporting role and one large part.

Since the standard slasher film “Halloween H20” (which didn’t take place under water) and the underrated Nixon/Watergate-era satire “Dick” with Kirsten Dunst, both of which Williams said she appeared in to help build her career, Williams has been doing smaller, more independent-minded films.

These include the intriguing and moving British film “Me Without You,” about intensely connected teenage adolescent girls, and the campy satire “But I’m a Cheerleader,” which sends up the “homosexual-reformation” organizations.

Recent projects that Williams have appeared in have just as interesting and/or ambitious as “The Station Agent.” “The United States of Leiland,” which premiered with “The Station Agent” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, was a heartfelt ensemble about a pointless murder.

Williams finds that skepticism from critics and filmmakers toward her acting has decreased over the years: “I used to come up against that more than I have now. I also never really thought too much about it because [I don’t want to give the opinions] too much credence…but it’s changed a lot over the years. People aren’t as judgmental as maybe they once were.”

Her upcoming films include “Imaginary Heroes,” in which she plays a daughter in a family coping with the suicide of its favorite son, and German director Wim Wenders’ (“Wings of Desire”) “Angst and Alienation in America.”

While her plans for the future are unclear (she failed to name any directors she would like to work, but cited Philip Seymour Hoffman as a favorite actor), Williams looks to stay away from her TV roots and continue to work in smaller, personal films.

“I’m just trying to be honest with myself about picking things for the right reasons and getting things for the right reasons.” Williams said that the filming she just finished is the sort of role she’s been working toward. “Now I’m sort of at this place where I don’t really know what I want past that…Now I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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