Michelle Ingrid Williams (born
September 9, 1980) is an American actress. Williams broke into stardom on
the teen series Dawson's Creek and later graduated to full-length
features, most notably Brokeback Mountain, for which she earned an Academy
Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Williams was born in Kalispell, Montana, the daughter of Carla, a
homemaker, and Larry Williams, a well-known stock and commodities trader.
When Williams was nine, her family moved to San Diego, California, and, at
an early age, she became interested in acting. At age fifteen, faced with
her parents' disapproval, she emancipated herself from them. After
completing the ninth grade at the Upper School of Santa Fe Christian
Schools, in Solana Beach, California, she left school in order to pursue
her acting career in Dawson's Creek.
In 1997, she won the Robbins World Cup Trading Championship, as her father
had done 10 years earlier. She won after turning $10,000 into $110,000
over the course of a year and that gain (as of 2006) is the fourth highest
in the history of that competition (her father has the highest).
Williams's career began in television, appearing in programs such as the
1990s version of Lassie, Baywatch, Step by Step, and Home Improvement. Her
first film role was in the motion picture Species. Soon after, she won
additional roles, including the Jessica Lange-Michelle Pfeiffer film A
Thousand Acres and the 1998 movie Halloween H20: 20 Years Later with Jamie
Lee Curtis and Josh Hartnett. Williams's star profile rose considerably
when in 1997 she was cast as one of the lead characters on the WB show
Dawson's Creek. She would play Jen Lindley for all six seasons of the
During and after the show's run, Williams appeared in several films. Her
first starring role was as Arlene in the film Dick, a satire of the
Watergate scandal, opposite Kirsten Dunst. She starred opposite Christina
Ricci in Prozac Nation, and also appeared in the HBO film If These Walls
Could Talk 2, and several acclaimed indie pictures such as The United
States of Leland, Me Without You, and Imaginary Heroes. For her
performance in The Station Agent, Williams, along with the rest of the
cast, received a Screen Actors Guild award nomination for Best Acting
Ensemble. The following year, Williams stared in independent features Land
of Plenty and A Hole in One. In 2005, critics and audiences took note of
Williams's performance in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. For that
performance she won a Critic's Choice Award and received Golden Globe,
BAFTA, and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
In 2006 she appeared in The Hawk Is Dying with Paul Giamatti. In 2007, she
was in The Hottest State opposite Ethan Hawke and in the Todd Haynes
directed I'm Not There with Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger,
and Julianne Moore. In 2008, she starred with Ewan McGregor and Hugh
Jackman in the Marcel Langenegger film Deception.
It has been noted that Williams has "repeatedly taken chances on
under-the-radar indies" such as The Station Agent and The Hawk Is Dying,
"while catching the attention of auteurs like Wim Wenders (Land of
Plenty), Todd Haynes (I'm Not There); and Martin Scorsese"; the Scorsese
movie in question is Shutter Island (based on the novel Shutter Island by
Dennis Lehane), which also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo.
Along with the Scorsese film, she shot four other films in succession.
Independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy was shown on
September 27 and 28, 2008, at the New York Film Festival and opened on
December 10, 2008. Williams was highly acclaimed, with some claiming the
performance was her best yet. She is one of a "vivid ensemble cast
orbiting around Philip Seymour Hoffman's harried theater director" in
Synecdoche, New York, the first film directed by Charlie Kaufman, the
screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind and Adaptation.
Two other films include director Lukas Moodysson's Mammoth with Gael
García Bernal; and Incendiary, which premiered at the Sundance Film
Festival in 2008. Williams recently said that she is "going to take a year
off" as she "stopped feeling creative a little while ago, and ... just
realizing it now," and is also "feeling the strain of being a working
single mom" and the untimely death of her former fiance, Heath Ledger.
Williams can be seen in the upcoming romance film Blue Valentine with Ryan
Gosling; the film is currently in pre-production and has a release date of
Williams is one of the 134 moviemakers who have been invited to join the
Academy Awards Organization.
Williams met Heath Ledger on the set of the film Brokeback Mountain, in
which they played husband and wife. During their time together, they lived
in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, New York Williams was engaged to Ledger and gave
birth to their daughter, Matilda Rose Ledger, on October 28, 2005, in New
York City. Matilda's godfather is Jake Gyllenhaal, her co-star in
Brokeback Mountain, while her godmother is Busy Philipps, Williams'
co-star on Dawson's Creek.
Williams "reads bedtime stories to Matilda ... in whatever accent she's
practicing — East London for 'Incendiary,' Boston for 'Shutter Island' —
but has had a hard time balancing the immersive demands of acting and the
consuming duties of motherhood" and "The bleakness of some of the roles
has also taken a toll". Williams "still finds herself reacting to the
tabloid intrusions" of celebrity stardom "with bewilderment" and finds it
difficult to "negotiate a gulf between private self and public image" and
the phenomenon of celebrity 'a bit of an isolating problem to have'".
Williams is "an avid reader who favors poetry over novels while filming so
she's not distracted by competing narratives" and who would like "to pick
up a skill" like embroidery during her yearlong sabbatical from filming.
In a December 2008 interview with L.A. Weekly, Williams spoke about taking
time off set to be a full-time single mother and the support she has found
in what she refers to as "coffee-shop parents" and "single-mom parents".
Williams said, "I’m not quite ready to give up working, but I don’t know
how to do the good balance of it. That’s the challenge, to live in the
Williams was dating director Spike Jonze. The pair came out as a couple in
July 2008. In September 2009, Williams confirmed the pair had split.
Heath Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment on January 22, 2008,
from what was later determined to be an accidental overdose of
prescription drugs. Williams's publicist released her first public
statement about his death on February 1, 2008: "Please respect our need to
grieve privately. My heart is broken. I am the mother of the most
tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting
image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her
that reveals itself every day. His family and I watch Matilda as she
whispers to trees, hugs animals, and takes steps two at a time and we know
that he is with us still. She will be brought up with the best memories of
In early February 2008, Williams flew from New York City first to Los
Angeles and then to Perth, to attend memorial and funeral services,
including a wake on Cottesloe, Western Australia.