Emmy-winner Michelle Williams says dance is where she has found an unexpected amount of joy
Playing complex characters is not new for actor Michelle Williams, who shot to fame as the lead actress in Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003). Consider her other performances — Blue Valentine (2010), Shutter Island (2010), Manchester by the Sea (2016) — and The Greatest Showman (2018) most of which have gone on to be nominated for the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Most recently, the 39-year-old, who is also a Broadway performer, won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series/Movie, for her portrayal of Gwen Verdon, in the biographical mini-series Fosse/Verdon — an eight-episode series that takes us into the romantic and creative partnership between two of Broadway’s most acclaimed personalities — director/cinematographer Bob Fosse and dancer Gwen Verdon. Excerpts from a chat with Williams:
What’s it like to play a person like Gwen Verdon?
From the people that I’d spoken to, I kept hearing over and over again, was that she was like the sunshine in the room. The way that I’ve come to think of her is someone who is always trying their hardest and will occasionally be backed up against a wall when she’s cornered and things aren’t in her control anymore. But as much as she possibly could she was constantly trying to rise above and be her best self.
Tell us a little bit about perfecting the whole Fosse choreography, especially because it is so different from everyone else’s?
I wanted to get up on the stage when I was watching them right there in that number. I was so jealous. And as far as the angles, we’ve been really well supported in terms of the people that have been teaching us. The choreographers that we've worked with, who have spent so much time with both Sam and I, and who we love not just as professionals, but also as people. So, it’s a very harmonious work environment, which you feel like you can, sort of, get your best work done there. We’ve been well looked after by people who are part of the Legacy. They are Legacy dancers.
You didn’t have formal training in dance. How has your confidence and training evolved over the years?
I danced a little bit as a kid but not anything to write home about. And then all of a sudden, the last decade, it just keeps coming up for me. It is a place that I have found an unexpected amount of joy, and so I keep wanting to return to it. And it feels like something that is being built on. So, to have had a bit of that training going into this and a little bit of vocabulary that I already knew, it has been really helpful. But this is just the next level of degree of difficulty.
There’s a real sadness to Gwen and her career being curtailed. How much has the world changed or in entertainment in terms of women’s careers?
There’s this big gap in her career that was intentional because she wanted to stay home, and she wanted to be a mother, and she wanted to be present for Nicole. It was something that we all struggle with as working mothers. It’s a very complicated dilemma. But the other thing that she faced in her career, which is different from what I’ll face in my career, hopefully, is that as a dancer, there comes a point when you can’t do what you used to be able to do. And as an actress, my path, hopefully, will be different than that. So, that was the thing that slowed her down, but then she metamorphosed her career and starting just doing more acting, which you saw later in her life — just playing roles. So, it was just a pure matter of physicality and some of it was a matter of wanting to devote herself to being a mother.
Can you talk a little bit more about the dynamic of the love, the hate, the in-between about Bob and Gwen?
I think of them as, sort of, like yin and yang. Light and dark that’s always chasing each other and shaping each other.
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