Born thirty-eight years ago today, Michelle Williams is an Academy Award-calibre actress with a versatile body of work. Known for her quiet yet immersive and hyper-present performances, she’s done it all: from stagework (Blackbird) to auteur cinema (I’m Not There, Brokeback Mountain) to blockbuster thriller (Deception). At Fandor, we’re celebrating Williams’ birthday by highlighting some of her greatest performances.
Wendy and Lucy dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008
Centering on a cash-strapped woman who is on a feverish hunt for her missing four-legged friend, Wendy and Lucy marked the first collaboration between Williams and the reigning queen of quiet, emotive cinema, Kelly Reichardt; Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and Certain Women (2016) would follow. It was a perfect match; Reichardt’s minimalist story viscerally reverberates from Williams’ expressions. Made on a $300,000 budget, this unique story of love and loss reportedly spoiled big-budget filmmaking for Williams, who struggled with the bloated nature of Hollywood’s long shoots upon her return.
Watch Now: Wendy and Lucy
Shutter Island dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010
A madhouse neo-noir, Shutter Island’s search for a matricidal asylum patient who’s gone missing was one of the 2010s greatest box office successes. Williams plays the ghost of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniel’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) deceased wife, Dolores, who was murdered by an arsonist. People aren’t always who they seem to be on Shutter Island, and Williams, enhanced by CGI, gracefully toggles through the Marshal’s disoriented mind as both minx and manic-depressive.
Blue Valentine dir. Derek Cianfrance, 2010
Prior to filming Cianfrance’s gutting non-linear story of an ill-fated relationship between two working-class lovers, the leads — Ryan Gosling and Williams — lived together for an entire month on the same budget as their characters. It wasn’t long before the natural issues which plagued their on-screen couple soon came to the forefront of the domestic arrangement. One of the greatest case studies in method acting of the past decade, Blue Valentine presents two actors at the top of their game who are willing to go to extreme lengths to leave viewers immersed and bleary-eyed.
All the Money in the World dir. David Scarpa, 2017
All the Money in the World drew more attention during the early days of #MeToo and #TimesUp than it did at the box office, but it’s an exemplary thriller and ideal for those who couldn’t get enough of Williams in Scorsese’s mid-century noir Shutter Island. Williams plays Gail Harris, a firm but vulnerable society woman hell-bent on rescuing her kidnapped sixteen-year-old son.
Station Agent dir. Tom McCarthy, 2003
The Station Agent doesn’t feature Williams front-and-center (that honor would go to future Game of Thrones badass, Peter Dinklage) but it did prove an important stepping stone to her past Dawson’s Creek career. Her performance as the naïve young librarian, Emily, established her as a rising star of indie film. The role might have been small, but Williams makes the most of it, stealing most of the scenes she’s in.