Williams at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
Michelle Ingrid Williams
September 9, 1980
Kalispell, Montana, U.S.
|Heath Ledger (2004-2007)|
Michelle Ingrid Williams (born September 9, 1980) is an American actress. She is particularly known for her roles in small-scale independent productions with dark or tragic themes. She is the recipient of several accolades, including two Golden Globe Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award, in addition to nominations for four Academy Awards and one Tony Award.
Daughter of the politician and trader Larry R. Williams, she was raised in Kalispell and San Diego. She began her career with television guest appearances and made her film debut in the family film Lassie in 1994. At 15, she gained emancipation from her parents, and soon achieved recognition for her leading role in the television teen drama series Dawson's Creek (1998-2003). This was followed by low-profile films, before her breakthrough role as the wife of a gay man in Brokeback Mountain (2005) earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Williams went on to gain critical acclaim for playing emotionally troubled women coping with loss or loneliness in the independent dramas Wendy and Lucy (2008), Blue Valentine (2010), and Manchester by the Sea (2016). She won two Golden Globes for portraying Marilyn Monroe in the drama My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Gwen Verdon in the miniseries Fosse/Verdon (2019), in addition to a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for the latter. Her highest-grossing releases came with the thriller Shutter Island (2010), the fantasy film Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), the musical The Greatest Showman (2017), and the superhero film Venom (2018). On Broadway, she starred in revivals of the musical Cabaret in 2014 and the drama Blackbird in 2016, for which she received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
Williams is an advocate for equal pay. She is reticent about her personal life; she has a daughter from her relationship with the late actor Heath Ledger, and was briefly married to the musician Phil Elverum. She is married to theater director Thomas Kail, with whom she has a child.
Michelle Ingrid Williams was born on September 9, 1980, in Kalispell, Montana, to Carla, a homemaker, and Larry R. Williams, an author and commodities trader. She is of Norwegian descent. Her father twice ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate as a Republican Party nominee. In Kalispell, Williams lived with her three paternal half-siblings and her younger sister, Paige. Although she has described her family as "not terribly closely knit", she shared a close bond with her father, who taught her to fish and shoot, and encouraged her to become a keen reader. Williams has recounted fond memories of growing up in the vast landscape of Montana. When she was nine, the family moved to San Diego, California. She has said of the experience, "It was less happy probably by virtue of it being my preteen years, which are perhaps unpleasant wherever you go." She mostly kept to herself and was self-reliant.
Williams became interested in acting at an early age when she saw a local production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She performed in an amateur production of the musical Annie, and her parents would drive her from San Diego to Los Angeles to audition for parts. Her first screen appearance was as Bridget Bowers, a young woman who seduces Mitch Buchannon's son, Hobie, in a 1993 episode of the television series Baywatch. The following year, she made her film debut in the family movie Lassie, about the bond between a young boy (played by Tom Guiry) and the titular dog. Williams played the love interest of Guiry's character, which led Steven Gaydos of Variety to take note of her "winning perf". She next took on guest roles in the television sitcoms Step by Step and Home Improvement, and appeared as the child form of Sil, an alien played in adulthood by actress Natasha Henstridge, in the 1995 science fiction film Species.
By 1995, Williams had completed ninth grade at Santa Fe Christian Schools in San Diego. She disliked going there as she did not get along well with other students. To focus on her acting pursuits, she left the school and enrolled for in-home tutoring. At age 15, with her parents' approval, Williams filed for emancipation from them, so she could better pursue her acting career with less interference from child labor work laws. To comply with the emancipation guidelines, she completed her high school education in nine months through correspondence. She later regretted not getting a proper education.
Following her emancipation, Williams relocated to Los Angeles and lived by herself in Burbank. Describing her initial experience in the city, she said, "There are some really disgusting people in the world, and I met some of them." To support herself, she took assignments in low-budget movies and commercials. She had minor roles in the television films My Son is Innocent (1996) and Killing Mr. Griffin (1997), and the drama A Thousand Acres (1997), which starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange. Williams later described her early work as "embarrassing", saying she had taken those roles to support herself as she "didn't have any taste [or] ideals". In 1997, unhappy with the roles she was being offered, Williams collaborated with two other actresses to write a script named Blink, about prostitutes living in a Nevada brothel, which despite being sold to a production company was never made. Having learned to trade under her father's guidance, the 17-year-old Williams entered the Robbins World Cup Championship, a futures trading contest; with a return of 1000%, she became the first woman to win the title and the third-highest winner of all time (her father ranks first).
In 1998, Williams began starring in the television teen drama series Dawson's Creek, created by Kevin Williamson and co-starring James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, and Joshua Jackson. The series aired for six seasons from January 1998 to May 2003 and featured Williams as Jen Lindley, a precocious and promiscuous New York-based teenager who relocates to the fictional town of Capeside. The series was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Williams relocated for the next six years. In a review of the first season for The New York Times, Caryn James called it a soap opera that was "redeemed by intelligence and sharp writing" but thought Williams was "too earnest to suit this otherwise shrewdly tongue-in-cheek cast".Ray Richmond of Variety labeled it "an addictive drama with considerable heart" and considered all four leads appealing. The series was a ratings success and raised Williams' profile. Her first film release since the start of Dawson's Creek was Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), a slasher film starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The seventh installment in the Halloween film series, it featured Williams as one of several teenagers traumatized by a murderer. It earned $55 million domestically against its $17 million budget.
Williams has credited Dawson's Creek as "the best acting class", but also admitted she had not fully invested herself in it as "my taste was in contradiction to what I was doing every single day." She filmed the series for nine months each year and spent the remaining time playing against type in independent features, which she considered a better fit for her personality. She has said the financial stability of a steady job empowered her to act in such films. Williams found her first such role in the comedy Dick (1999), a parody of the Watergate scandal, in which she and Kirsten Dunst played teenagers obsessed with Richard Nixon. Praising the film's political satire, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly credited both actresses for playing their roles with "screwball verve".Dick failed to recoup its $13million investment. In the same year Williams played a small part in But I'm a Cheerleader, a satirical comedy about conversion therapy.
Keen to play challenging roles in adult-oriented projects, Williams spent the summer of 1999 starring in an Off-Broadway play named Killer Joe. Penned by Tracy Letts, it is a black comedy about a dysfunctional family who kills their matriarch for insurance money; Williams was cast as the family's youngest daughter. The production featured gruesome violence and required Williams to perform a nude scene. Her socially conservative parents were displeased with it, but Williams said she found it "cathartic and freeing". Her next role was in the HBO television film If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000), a drama about three lesbian couples in different time periods. Williams agreed to the part after ensuring a sex scene with Chloë Sevigny was pertinent to the story and was not meant to titillate. In a mixed review of the film, Ken Tucker criticized Williams for overplaying her character's eagerness. When asked about playing a series of sexual roles, Williams said, "I don't think of any of them as sexy, hot girls. They were just defined at an early age by the fact that others saw them that way." She subsequently made an effort to play roles that were not sexualized.
The British film Me Without You (2001), about an obsessive female friendship, starred Williams and Anna Friel. Williams played Holly, an insecure bibliophile, a part that came close to her personality. The writer-director Sandra Goldbacher was initially reluctant to cast an American in a British part but was impressed by Williams' self-deprecating humor and a "European stillness".Roger Ebert praised Williams' British accent and found her to be "cuddly and smart both at once". Williams returned to stage the following year in a production of Mike Leigh's farce Smelling a Rat. Her part, that of a scatterbrained teenager exploring her sexuality, led Karl Levett of Backstage to credit her for being "a first-class creative comedienne". Williams played a supporting role in the Christina Ricci-starring Prozac Nation, a drama about depression based on Elizabeth Wurtzel's memoir.
Dawson's Creek completed its run in 2003, and Williams was satisfied with how it had run its course. She relocated to New York City soon after. She had supporting parts in two art-house films that year, the drama The United States of Leland and the comedy-drama The Station Agent. In the former, starring Ryan Gosling, she played the grieving sister of a murdered boy; it was described by The Globe and Mails Liam Lacey as "neither an insightful nor well-made film".The Station Agent, about a lonely dwarf (played by Peter Dinklage), featured Williams as a librarian who develops an attraction towards him. Critically acclaimed, the film's cast was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. On stage, Williams played Varya in a 2004 production of Anton Chekhov's drama The Cherry Orchard, alongside Linda Emond and Jessica Chastain, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The theater critic Ben Brantley wrote that "she cannily plays her natural vibrancy against the anxiety that has worn the young Varya into a permanent high-strung sullenness."
The German filmmaker Wim Wenders wrote the film Land of Plenty (2004), which investigates anxiety and disillusionment in a post-9/11 America, with Williams in mind.Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times praised Wenders' thoughtful examination of the subject and took note of Williams' screen appeal. She received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead for the film. The actress next appeared in Imaginary Heroes, a drama about a family coping with their son's suicide, and played an impressionable young woman fixated on mental health in the period film A Hole in One. Williams returned to the comedic genre with The Baxter, in which she played a geeky secretary. The film received negative reviews; Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote, "Only when Williams is around does the movie seem human, true, and funny. Even in her slapstick, there's pain." As with her other films during this period, it received only a limited release and was not widely seen.
Williams gained wider recognition later in 2005 when she appeared in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, about the romance between two men, Ennis and Jack (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively). Impressed with her performance in The Station Agent, the casting director Avy Kaufman recommended Williams to Lee. He found a vulnerability in her and cast her as Alma, the wife of Ennis, who discovers her husband's homosexuality and infidelity. Williams was emotionally affected by the story, and in spite of her limited screen time, was drawn to playing a woman constricted by the social mores of the time. Labeling Williams as the standout among the cast, Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine credited her for "fascinatingly spiking her unspoken resentment for her sham of a marriage with a hint of compassion for Ennis's secret suffering".Brokeback Mountain proved to be her most widely seen film to that point, earning $178 million against its $14 million budget. It won three Academy Awards and she gained a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Williams began dating Ledger while working on the film. The couple cohabited in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, New York, and in 2005, she gave birth to their daughter.
Williams had two film releases in 2006. She first featured opposite Paul Giamatti in the drama The Hawk Is Dying. Five months after giving birth to her daughter, she returned to work on Ethan Hawke's directorial venture The Hottest State, based on his own novel. Leslie Felperin of Variety found her role to be too brief. Following the awards season success of Brokeback Mountain, Williams was unsure of what to do next. After six months of indecision, she agreed to a small part in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There (2007), a musical inspired by the life of Bob Dylan. She was then attracted to the part of an enigmatic seductress named S in the 2008 crime thriller Deception. The film, which co-starred Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor, was considered by critics to be middling and predictable. In her next release, Incendiary, based on Chris Cleave's novel of the same name, Williams reteamed with McGregor to play a woman whose family is killed in a terrorist attack. In his review for The Independent, Robert Hanks called it "sloppy", and said Williams deserved better.
Williams' two other releases of 2008 were better received. The screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was impressed with her comic timing in Dick and thus cast her in his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, an ensemble experimental drama headlined by Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was a box office bomb and polarized critics, although Roger Ebert named it the best film of the decade. Two days after finishing work on Synecdoche, New York, Williams began filming Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, playing the part of a poor and lonesome young woman traveling with her dog and looking for employment. With a shoestring budget of $300,000, the film was shot on location in Portland, Oregon, with a largely volunteer crew. Williams had just separated from Ledger and was relieved for the anonymity the project provided. She was pleased with Reichardt's minimalistic approach and identified with her character's self-sufficiency and fortitude. Sam Adams of Los Angeles Times found Williams' performance to be "remarkable not only for its depth but for its stillness" and Mick LaSalle commended her for effectively conveying a "lived-in sense of always having been close to the economic brink".
While filming in Sweden for her next project, Mammoth (2009), news broke that Ledger had died from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs. Although Williams continued filming, she later said, "It was horrible. I don't remember most of it." In her first public statement, a week after Ledger's death, Williams expressed her heartbreak and described Ledger's spirit as surviving in their daughter. Later that month she attended his memorial and funeral services.
Mammoth was directed by the Swedish director Lukas Moodysson and featured Williams and Gael García Bernal as a couple dealing with issues stemming from globalization. Her role was that of an established surgeon, a part she deemed herself too young to logically play. In the same year she co-starred with Natalie Portman in a Roman Polanski-directed faux perfume commercial called Greed. For her next project, Martin Scorsese cast her opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the psychological thriller Shutter Island. Based on Dennis Lehane's novel, it featured her as a depressed housewife who drowns her own children. The high-profile production marked a departure for her, and she found it difficult to adjust to the slower pace of filming. In preparation, she read case studies on infanticide. After finishing work on the film in 2008, Williams admitted that playing a series of troubled women coupled with her own personal difficulties had taken an emotional toll. She took a year off work to focus on her daughter.Shutter Island was released in 2010 and was a commercial success, earning over $294million worldwide.
Williams first read the script of Derek Cianfrance's romantic drama Blue Valentine at age 21. When funding came through after years of delay, she was reluctant to accept the offer as filming in California would take her away from her daughter for too long. Keen to have her in the film, Cianfrance decided to film it near Brooklyn, where Williams lived. Co-starring Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine is about the tribulations faced by a disillusioned married couple. Before production began, Cianfrance had Williams and Gosling live together for a month on a stipend that matched their characters' income. This exercise led to conflicts between them, which proved conducive for filming their characters' deteriorating marriage. On set, she and Gosling practiced method acting by improvising several scenes. The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim.A. O. Scott found Williams to be "heartbreakingly precise in every scene" and praised the couple for being "exemplars of New Method sincerity, able to be fully and achingly present every moment on screen together". Williams received Best Actress nominations at the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award ceremonies.
In her final film release of 2010, Williams reunited with Reichardt for the western Meek's Cutoff. Set in 1854, it is based on an ill-fated historical incident on the Oregon Trail, in which the frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train through a desert. Williams starred as one of the passengers on the wagon, a feisty young mother, who is suspicious of Meek. In preparation, she took lessons on firing a gun and learned to knit. Filming in extreme temperatures in the desert proved arduous for Williams, although she enjoyed the challenge. Writing for The Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoontz praised the subtlety both in the film and in Williams' performance.
In 2011, Williams played the actress Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, a drama depicting the troubled production of the 1957 comedy The Prince and the Showgirl, based on accounts by Colin Clark, who worked on the latter film. Initially skeptical to play Monroe, as she had little in common with her looks or personality, Williams spent six months researching her by reading biographies, diaries and notes, and studying her posture, gait, and mannerisms. She also gained weight for the part, bleached her hair blond, and on days of filming, spent over three hours applying make-up. Williams sang three songs for the film's soundtrack and recreated a performance of Monroe singing and dancing to "Heat Wave". Roger Ebert considered Williams' performance to be the film's prime asset and credited her for successfully evoking multiple aspects of Monroe's personality.Peter Travers opined that despite not physically resembling Monroe, she had "with fierce artistry and feeling [illuminated] Monroe's insights and insecurities about herself at the height of her fame". Williams won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and received her second consecutive Oscar nomination for it.
In Sarah Polley's romance Take This Waltz (2011), co-starring Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby, Williams played a married writer attracted to her neighbor. Though the actress considered it to be a light-hearted film, Jenny McCartney of The Daily Telegraph found a darker undertone to it and favorably compared its theme to that of Blue Valentine. To play a part that would appeal to her daughter, Williams starred as Glinda the Good Witch in Sam Raimi's fantasy picture Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Based on the Oz children's books, it served as a prequel to the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz. It marked her first appearance in a film involving special effects and she credited Raimi for making her comfortable with the process. The film earned over $490million worldwide to emerge as one of her highest-grossing releases.Suite Française, a period drama that Williams filmed in 2013, was released in a few territories in 2015 but was not theatrically distributed in America. She later admitted to being displeased with how the film turned out, adding that she found it hard to predict the quality of a project during production. Eager to work in a different medium and finding it tough to obtain film roles that enabled her to maintain her parental commitments, Williams spent the next few years working on stage.
Williams' desire to star in a musical led her to the role of Sally Bowles in a 2014 revival of Cabaret, which was staged at Studio 54 and marked her Broadway debut. Jointly directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, it tells the story of a free-spirited cabaret performer (Williams) in 1930s Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party. Before production began, she spent four months privately rehearsing with music and dance coaches. She read the works of Christopher Isherwood, whose novel Goodbye to Berlin inspired the musical, and visited Berlin to research Isherwood's life and inspirations. She received mixed reviews for her performance; Jesse Green of New York magazine praised her singing and commitment to the role but Newsdays Linda Winer thought her portrayal lacked depth. The rigorousness of the assignment led Williams to consider Cabaret her toughest project.
Challenged by her work in Cabaret, Williams was eager to continue working on the stage. She found a part in a 2016 revival of the David Harrower play Blackbird. Set entirely in the lunchroom of an office, it focuses on a young woman, Una (Williams), who confronts a much-older man (played by Jeff Daniels) for having sexual relations with her when she was 12 years old. Williams, who had not seen previous stagings of the play, was drawn to the ambiguity of her character and found herself unable to distance herself from it after each performance.Hilton Als of The New Yorker found the actress' "daring and nonjudgmental embodiment of her not easily assimilable character" to be the production's highlight. She received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play nomination for Blackbird.
Williams returned to film in 2016 with supporting roles in two small-scale dramas, Certain Women and Manchester by the Sea. The former marked her third collaboration with Kelly Reichardt and told three interconnected narratives based on the short stories of Maile Meloy. As with their previous collaborations, the film featured minimal dialogue and required Williams to act through silences.Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea starred Casey Affleck as Lee, a depressed man who separates from his wife, Randy (Williams), following the tragic death of their children. Williams agreed to the project to work with Lonergan, whose work she admired, and in preparation, she visited Manchester to interview local mothers about their lives. She also worked with a dialect coach to speak in a Massachusetts accent. Despite the film's bleakness, Williams connected with her character's desire to reclaim her life in the face of tragedy. Several critics hailed Williams' climactic monologue, in which Randy confronts Lee, as the film's highlight; Justin Chang described it as an "astonishing scene that rises from the movie like a small aria of heartbreak". Williams received her fourth Academy Award nomination for the film, her second in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Following a brief appearance in Todd Haynes' drama Wonderstruck (2017), Williams appeared in the musical The Greatest Showman. Inspired by P. T. Barnum's creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, the film featured her as Charity, the wife of Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman). She compared her character's joyful disposition to that of Grace Kelly, and she sang two songs for the film's soundtrack. The film emerged as one of her most successful, earning over $434million worldwide. Williams then took on her first lead role in film since 2013 in Ridley Scott's crime thriller All the Money in the World. She starred as Gail Harris, whose son, John Paul Getty III, is abducted for ransom. She considered it a major opportunity, as she had not headlined a big-budget film before. A month before the film's release, Kevin Spacey, who played J. Paul Getty, was accused of sexual misconduct. He was replaced with Christopher Plummer, and Williams reshot her scenes days before the release deadline.David Edelstein of New York bemoaned that the controversy had taken attention away from Williams' work and commended her for conveying her character's grief "through the tension in her body and intensity of her voice". She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. It was later reported that her co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5million to Williams' $1,000 for the reshoots, sparking a debate on gender pay gap in the industry.
In 2018, Williams married the musician Phil Elverum in a secret ceremony in the Adirondack Mountains. Her first film role of 2018 was as a haughty but insecure executive in the Amy Schumer-starring comedy I Feel Pretty, which satirizes body image issues among women. The comedic role, which required her to speak in a high-pitched voice, led Peter Debruge of Variety to consider it to be "the funniest performance of her career". It was a modest box office success. In a continued effort to work in different genres, Williams played Anne Weying in the superhero film Venom, co-starring Tom Hardy as the titular antihero. Influenced by the Me Too movement, she provided off-screen inputs regarding her character's wardrobe and dialogue, but critic Peter Bradshaw found it "an outrageously boring and submissive role".Venom earned over $855million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film in which Williams has appeared.
Williams returned to the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 with After the Wedding, a remake of Susanne Bier's Danish film of the same name, in which Williams and Julianne Moore played roles portrayed by men in the original. Benjamin Lee of The Guardian considered the low-key part to be a better fit than her last few roles.Fosse/Verdon, an FX miniseries about the troubled personal and professional relationship between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, marked Williams' first leading role on television since Dawson's Creek. Williams also served as an executive producer; she was pleased not to have to negotiate to receive equal pay with her co-star Sam Rockwell. She drew upon her experience of performing Cabaret on Broadway for the role.John Doyle of The Globe and Mail wrote that "Williams plays Verdon with a wonderfully controlled sense of the woman's total commitment to her art and craft while always standing on the edge of an emotional abyss." She won a Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries for her role as Verdon.
Elverum and Williams filed for divorce in April 2019; by November 2019, it was reported that they were no longer married. Later that year, Williams became engaged to the theater director Thomas Kail, with whom she worked on Fosse/Verdon; they married in March 2020. She gave birth to their child in 2020.
Williams will next reprise the role of Anne Weying in the sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage, after which she will portray singer-songwriter Janis Joplin in a biopic directed by Sean Durkin, and astronaut Christa McAuliffe in The Challenger, a retelling of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. She has also committed to star in Kimberly Peirce's This is Jane, a historical drama about the Jane Collective service, and to team with Oscar Isaac in an adaptation of the 1973 miniseries Scenes from a Marriage for HBO.
Describing Williams' off-screen persona, Debbie McQuoid of Stylist wrote in 2016 that she is "predictably petite but her poise and posture make her seem larger than life." The journalist Andrew Anthony has described her as unpretentious, low-key, and unassuming. Charles McGrath of The New York Times considers her to be unlike a movie star and has called her "shy, earnest, thoughtful, and [...] a little wary of publicity". Williams has spoken about how she tries to balance her desire to be private and her wish to use her celebrity status to speak out against issues such as sexism, gender pay gap, and sexual harassment. On Equal Pay Day in 2019, she drew on the pay gap controversy involving All the Money in the World to deliver a speech in the United States Capitol urging for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. During her acceptance speech at the 77th Golden Globe Awards in 2020, Williams advocated for the importance of women's and reproductive rights.
Following the death of Ledger, Williams became the subject of intense media scrutiny and was frequently stalked by paparazzi. She disliked the attention, saying it interfered with her work and made her self-conscious. Although she refused to publicly discuss her relationships, she was forthright in expressing her grief over Ledger's death, saying it had left a permanent hole in her and her daughter's lives. Williams has since affirmed her determination to care for her daughter in spite of her difficulties as a single mother. In 2018, she opened up about her romantic relationship and marriage with Phil Elverum to provide grieving women with inspiration.
Williams prefers to work in small-scale independent films over big-budget productions, finding them to be "a very natural expression of [her] interest". Elaine Lipworth of The Daily Telegraph has identified a theme of "dark, often tragic characters" in her career, while Katie O'Malley of Elle believes she specializes in "playing strong, independent and forthright female characters". When asked about her choice of roles, Williams has said that she is drawn towards "people's failings, blind spots, inconsistencies". She agrees to a project on instinct, calling it an "un-thought out process". Describing her acting process in 2008, she said:
Acting sometimes reminds me of therapy in that the more you talk about a traumatic or profound event, the more it loses its emotional tension. [The trick is] to live in so much mystery, to rely on a feeling, an instinct, on faith, really, that everything I need is already inside me, and best I just don't block the exit.
Erica Wagner of Harper's Bazaar has praised Williams for combining "startlingly emotional performance with a sense of groundedness" and the critic David Thomson opines that she "can play anyone, without undue glamour or starriness".Adam Green of Vogue finds Williams' ability to reveal "the inner lives of her characters in unguarded moments" to be her trademark, and credits her for not "trading on her sex appeal" despite her willingness to perform nude scenes. Kenneth Lonergan, who directed her in Manchester by the Sea, has said that her versatility allows her to be "transformed, in her whole person" by the role she plays. Describing her career in 2016, Boris Kachka of Elle termed it a metamorphosis from "celebrated indie ingenue to muscular, chameleonic movie star".
Williams has featured as the brand ambassador for the fashion label Band of Outsiders and the luxury brand Louis Vuitton. She has appeared in several advertisement campaigns for the latter company, and in 2015, she starred alongside Alicia Vikander in their short film named The Spirit of Travel.
According to the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and the box-office site Box Office Mojo, Williams' most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films are The Station Agent (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Wendy and Lucy (2008), Blue Valentine (2010), Shutter Island (2010), Meek's Cutoff (2010), My Week with Marilyn (2011), Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Certain Women (2016), The Greatest Showman (2017), and Venom (2018). Among her stage roles, she has appeared on Broadway in revivals of Cabaret in 2014 and Blackbird in 2016.
Williams has been nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Manchester by the Sea (2016); and Best Actress for Blue Valentine (2010) and My Week with Marilyn (2011). She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Best Actress – Miniseries for Fosse/Verdon (2019); she has been nominated five more times: Best Actress in a Drama for Blue Valentine (2010) and All the Money in the World (2017); Best Supporting Actress, for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Manchester by the Sea (2016). Williams has also won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Fosse/Verdon (2019) and has received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for Blackbird.
|My Week with Marilyn||2011||"When Love Goes Wrong, Nothin' Goes Right / Heat Wave"||Sony Music|||
|"It's a Wrap, I Found a Dream"|
|"That Old Black Magic"|
|The Greatest Showman||2017||"A Million Dreams"||Atlantic Records|||
[Elverum]'s not married to Williams anymore either; they quietly filed for divorce this April, after less than a year of marriage.