• Golden Globe Awards

Michelle Williams, 2000 on Social Responsibility – Out of the Archives

Michelle Williams, a twice Golden Globe winner for her acting out of six nominations, plays the mother (Paul Dano is the father) in The Fabelmans (2022) directed by Steven Spielberg. We went back into our extensive archives of exclusive HFPA interviews to report what the young actress said when she first spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in the year 2000 at the age of 19 about the TV movie sequel If These Walls Could Talk 2. In the episode set in 1972 and directed by Martha Coolidge, Williams played a young woman who meets a butch lesbian (Chloë Sevigny) in a gay bar.  She talked about advancing the cause of gay rights, the responsibility of being politically aware and socially conscious.
The young actress was happy to be cast in a TV movie like If These Walls Could Talk 2, that advanced the cause of gay rights: “I was thrilled and excited from the get-go, it’s overwhelming to be part of something that is greater than yourself. There is a passion behind this project that it’s telling an important and necessary story, so that really bowled me over. It was a huge and risky thing to take on, so I talked to a lot of people beforehand and all I really got was support, the reaction that I’ve gotten from my gay friends has really touched me and made this an incredible experience. This is a tricky business and it’s hard to please people, but at the end of the day you have to do what makes you happy.”
When asked about acting in a love scene with Chloë Sevigny, Williams said she was glad it was with a woman rather than with a man: “I actually feel lucky that my first love scene was with a woman, because there was an innate comfort level that I wouldn’t have felt had it been a man; having a woman that was empathetic made it easier for me. Chloë was a friend and she was understanding, so that really took the pressure off. I was in such a vulnerable position, I mean, you’re always a little apprehensive when you’re nude, and I have enough issues with my body as it is, but it was a closed set and a safe environment, there were very few people around and we were kept protected. It was a difficult scene to approach and a sensitive one, but I believe it was for the greater good of the film and it served the cause.”
She had not yet seen Chloë Sevigny’s performance in Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Pierce, where she played a woman in love with trans man Brandon Teena portrayed by Hillary Swank: “When we were filming, this movie hadn’t come out yet, so nobody was really aware of it, Chloë and I never talked about it, but I’ve seen it since then and she’s extraordinary in it. They are two very different roles, but relatively similar circumstances, so it shows her versatility and her talent.”
Williams did a lot of research on the feminist movement of the early 1970s to prepare for her segment set in 1972: “I did a pretty thorough job. I watched old archival footage, documentaries, I read books, I met with women who were involved in the movement and who lived through it, I talked at length with them. I love the 70s for so many reasons, the urgency that was in the air, the activism, the political climate that was wrought with change, revolution and ideas, with people who were passionate about their beliefs and fought for them. I’m so attracted to that, I love exploring that, learning and reading more about it. And what’s extraordinary about the three pieces seen as a whole together is watching the progress and marking it from the 60s to the 70s to the year 2000, where acceptance and understanding has come such a long way.”
Anne Heche was directing an episode set in the year 2000 starring Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Stone, and the young actress felt welcomed on that set: “I had read all three of the segments. Anne and Ellen would drop by the set and come say hi; they have been incredibly supportive the whole way through. Then I’ve gotten to know Sharon from doing press. I mean, you search all over for a support group and some place to put your trust, so all these women coming together like that really created that kind of environment.”
At age 19 the young actress would be voting for the first time in the 2000 presidential elections, and she felt a responsibility to be politically informed: “I wouldn’t limit it to actors to have that responsibility, everybody has the responsibility. This is my first year that I’m going to be able to vote and I’m thrilled. I think it’s necessary, it’s important, it’s a great gift that we’re given in this country to be active politically, to be aware and to be conscious of what’s going on in your community, in your society and in the world that you live in.”
Williams learnt her liberal values growing up, raised by open-minded parents: “I grew up with my parents in a small town in Montana, and my father is an adventurous, extraordinary, open-minded man. I was raised with very few rules but they were love and acceptance, so I’ve never understood it any other way. Also my generation is growing up today in a much more open society, that is accepting and embracing; mine is a very free and liberated generation. So I’m proud of that and I feel really lucky to have grown up with certain values instilled in me, like the belief in the importance of family and friendships, of having a support group and a community; so I’ve worked really hard to find that because I don’t have a home. This job is unstable and nomadic, so I’ve made a conscious effort to develop a base of friends and not sacrifice that at any cost.”
As much as acceptance of a gay lifestyle has been growing, Williams thought there was still a long way to go: “Growing up I’ve had a lot of friends who are gay and are afraid to talk about it or embarrassed or ashamed, because people have told them that they’re wrong and that they’re doing something bad. That’s been instilled in our culture for a very long time, and even though it’s changing for the better, there is still a stigma attached; so that’s another beautiful reason for this film. I really do think that there’s a tremendous amount of hope, I feel positively about it, but there’s still more work to be done and that’s why I hope more movies about this subject are made.”