The Reel Breakdown

Risk-taker Michelle Williams chats about doing the restless housewife dance in ‘Take This Waltz’

The Reel Breakdown

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Photo by Magnolia Pictures

Last year Michelle Williams scored an Oscar nomination for playing Hollywood love goddess Marilyn Monroe; this year she plays baby-talking, barrette-wearing Canadian hipster hausfrau Margot in "Take This Waltz" (opening Friday). I love Williams because she acts from such a kind and empathetic heart, yet she doesn't demand that the audience like her characters. Sugarcoating? No way!

This time around, the stylish pixie delivers an emotionally rich, clear-eyed, and candid portrait of a housewife in heat. She plays Margot, a young Toronto wife struggling to maintain her marriage to Lou (a touching Seth Rogen) -- especially after she gets a whiff of the rickshaw-driving artist Daniel (Luke Kirby) who lives across the street.

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Written and directed by one-time child star Sarah Polley ("Away From Her") and taking its title from a Leonard Cohen song, the movie is a sexy, funny-sad female-driven movie about fidelity and individual identity and what we often don't talk about when we talk about marriage. It pulls no punches, yet it radiates warmth and humor.

While Margot may not be the role that earns Williams a fourth Oscar nomination, she holds the movie together without one sticky false emotion. Men and women are bound to have different reactions to this film -- even sisters may disagree -- but the discussion it inspires will be revealing about the depth of the film and the emotional state of the viewers. Williams sat down with Yahoo! Movies in midtown Manhattan to jaw about her latest movie in a career that keeps leaping from high to high.

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Thelma Adams: Michelle, what motivates Margot?

Michelle Williams: Margot is on a precipice of entering womanhood and saying goodbye to her 20s and maybe realizing that she has to say goodbye to things she never fully appreciated. She was sleepwalking until this random, or fated, meeting with Daniel sparks an awakening -- for better or worse. Would it be better to stay in the cozy woozy marriage? I don't know.

TA: I totally connected with your character. She's looking for something in her marriage that she can't find in herself -- and she doesn't awaken to that realization until it's too late. I'm sure you've gotten a lot of different responses to this movie and Margot character -- what have they been?

MW: It's hard to say who is making mistakes in this movie and what they are. It depends a lot on the viewer. It's possible that Margot's making a mistake in thinking that happiness lies outside of herself and that this feeling of restlessness can be fixed by another person. Whenever I hear a woman ask,  'How could you leave him -- he was so nice and he loved you,' it always surprises me. If that was you or your dear friend, you would know them and think that they were so amazing that they deserved more. I don't think that nice and good are a holy grail. I think it's OK to ask for a little more.

TA: Why this part? Why now?

MW: What I love when I read a script is mystery. That's what compels me a lot of the time, feeling that there's something there to solve. I'm drawn to that internal mystery of a character that isn't spelled out and explained. It can be a disorienting position to not know how to feel in a film when you're used to being told how to feel.

TA: I call that the Spielberg syndrome, where he's so busy telling you what to feel in his movies and the music telegraphs the emotions, that I feel emotionally invaded.

MW: Not telling the audience how to feel places a lot of respect on the viewers, refusing to tutor you on feelings or human behavior.

TA: You worked with Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley, who was pregnant with her first child when the film debuted last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival -- how did your experience with this film differ from working with other (male) directors?

MW: There is a deserved reverence and respect for Sarah in Canada that's actually sending shivers up and down my whole body right now. She's grown up on TV shows, there was a parallel.

TA: You had "Dawson's Creek," and she grew up in front of the camera as the star of "Avonlea."

MW: And we both found our way in independent cinema. She has a keen political side and directing side and she has a mothering side, and I've been working on that mothering side for six years with Matilda.

TA: So you had a lot in common and really connected?

MW: It felt like working with an old friend. What an uncommon experience it is when you feel like you've been walking side by side, but separated by thousands of miles. We kept sharing our personal stories and then saying, 'Yes, me too!'

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TA: In 'Take This Waltz,' you're allowed to play the manic pixie dream-girl, Chapter 2: Married and restless.

MW: I don't think of Margot as that kind of force of nature, cashing in on cool that I associate with the manic pixie dream-girl. I actually think of her as an awkward, stuck adolescent in some ways. She wants to be a writer but hasn't gotten there. She talks in baby voices. She wears little barrettes in her hair. She isn't this kind of whirlwind. I kind of wish I was a manic pixie dream-girl. There's something alluring about being that force of nature.

TA: As Michelle, what would your advice have been to Margot as she started looking amorously at the boy next door -- when does flirtation cross into obsession and infidelity?

MW: I actually think Margot does something that I admire about her. She's in the midst of this struggle but is able to contain herself enough, to contain the heat and the excitement and possibility enough. She's wrestling, and that's the thing I respect about her: She's considering and weighing. She's not acting on impulse

TA: Margot has this annoying habit of talking in baby-talk to her husband -- and some viewers relate and some are turned off. Do you do the baby-talk thing in relationships?

MW: I have never been a baby-talker [slipping into Margot's baby-talk voice]. It's hard to get out of once you've used it. Those were the clues to me that she was regressed in some way. She wants to stay safe and cozy, but she's not the kind of person that can live there for the rest of her life. Where she is at the end, I see a kind of a real wisdom that I didn't see in the beginning. She has an understanding and a kind of grounding like a deeper sadness. There's an understanding of the cost of things. This is what happens when you take risks with your heart.

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TA: Your next part could not be more different. You play a younger version of Glinda the Good Witch in 'Oz, the Great and Powerful.'  This is finally a part you can share with your daughter, Matilda.

MW: Matilda was on set almost every day. I wanted it to be a magical movie to make, and a magical movie for a child to witness. My greatest hope for that movie was to integrate my life with my work.

TA: Glinda is nearly as much of a cultural icon as Marilyn. How did you own the part?

MW: I hope that you can see shades of the great witch we know Glinda will become because we've all seen "The Wizard of Oz." In some ways, here, she's still unformed. Later, she becomes this all-seeing perfect creature. In "Oz, the Great and Powerful," she's still a fairy -- but a little more human.

See the trailer for 'Take This Waltz':

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