Nominee for Best Actress at the Golden Globes this weekend, Michelle Williams talks about her role in Blue Valentine with The Australian, whose reporter says this search through the wreckage of a relationship is “the ultimate anti-date movie.”
Derek Cianfrance’s clever, counter-intuitive film does not reveal why Cindy and Dean are in such a mess or ply us with easy melodrama, but sketches the raw terrain of a relationship’s descent from tenderness to snarling mutual disdain.
Williams denies rumours that she and Gosling had a relationship off camera. However, they lived in their alter-egos’ “house” and went grocery shopping together. The film’s improvisational heart is clear in the naturalism of their performances. “When I dreamt of being an actor, as a teenager reading books about Marlon Brando and James Dean and the Method and all that embarrassing ‘actor’ stuff,” Williams says, “I hoped that one day I would be given the liberty to do the same, and now I have. We never did lines, everything was done straight on to camera. I hold myself to a high standard; I’m hard on myself, for better, for worse. I always ask for another take.”
Of filming the last part of the film, the breakdown, Williams says: “I would count the hours until I could get in the car and drive away, wash it off; my head out of the window, screaming like a dog. The only thing that could calm me was listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs because it was female and aggressive.”
Touching on unfathomable connections to her tormented portrayals onscreen, Williams is candid about how she’s been able to cope with her own personal tragedy.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t use work as a refuge and so I learnt to fall in love with taking time off,” she says. “Nothing goes by in my life without being opened out, turned over, checked for deformities and sewn back up. I’m hard on myself, not just as an actress.”
How? “Everything. I’m learning to give it up in certain areas, like housekeeping. I clean obsessively, on the assumption that if where I live is orderly then my life will be orderly.
“I have a child but I was spending precious time at night not with her but on my hands and knees picking up dolls’ clothes under the couch or organising piles of books. Then I realised that the happiest houses aren’t the cleanest ones. I will not do it any more. I will no longer be a slave to my living room and my kitchen sink.”
Is she also hard on herself as a parent? “Yes, very, until I had a realisation about six months ago that I have a wonderful child who is doing so well and as her mother I must have something to do with that. But the constant question on my mind is how to find balance, because time spent working is time spent away from her. When I put her to bed I ask her, ‘What was your rose and what was your thorn?’ of that day. I guess I’m asking myself the same question: how have I succeeded, how have I failed, how do I improve and become the person and parent I want to be?”