Birthdate: September 9, 1980
Birthplace: Kalispell, Montana, USA
An actor of uncommon subtlety and breadth, Michelle Williams (birthname: Michelle Ingrid Williams) has become a face of American independent cinema, particularly as the leading actor in several films by Kelly Reichardt, including her 2022 Showing Up, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival.
Williams is especially notable for being a genuine movie star, as well as a four-time Oscar-nominated actor, who has nearly entirely avoided the wave of blockbuster superhero and comic-book movies (with the exception being the Spider-Man Universe Venom franchise) that have seemingly engulfed the Hollywood moviemaking business.
After legally emancipating herself from her parents at age 15 for the technical purposes of bypassing child labor laws in order to work in features and television, Michelle Williams was an unusually driven teen actor living alone in Los Angeles. She landed her career-making role at 17 in the long-running hit teen prime-time soaper, Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003).
Crucially, the series provided Williams the financial stability in order to work in director-driven indie projects, such as Dick (1999), with Kirsten Dunst, the HBO lesbian drama If These Walls Could Talk (2000) with Chloë Sevigny, Sandra Goldbacher’s British drama, Me Without You (2001), with Anna Friel, and an excellent supporting turn opposite Christina Ricci in Erik Skjoldbjærg's Prozac Nation (2001).
Her past Dawson's indie work (in such fine films as Tom McCarthy’s 2003 The Station Agent with Peter Dinklage) began to draw the attention of the likes of filmmaker Wim Wenders, who wrote her a leading role in his Land of Plenty (2004), with John Diehl, earning her an Indie Spirit nomination. With her supporting role in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams was her first critical and audience hit, with the film earning nearly $200 million globally and scoring Williams her first Oscar nomination.
After a handful of poor and middling projects, Williams joined the impressive ensemble in Charlie Kaufman’s complex, divisive drama, Synecdoche, New York (2008), with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Hope Davis. She immediately followed with her most important work to date and her first collaboration with Reichardt, the stirring and heartbreaking masterpiece Wendy and Lucy (2008).
Williams tackled more emotionally grueling roles with Gael Garcia Bernal in Lukas Moodyson’s Mammoth (2009), and then in Martin Scorsese’s version of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island (2009), her best-grossing movie to date co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Oscar and Indie Spirit nominations followed for her emotionally and physically bold work alongside co-star Ryan Gosling in Derek Cianfrance’s disturbing love story, Blue Valentine (2010). Reuniting with Reichardt, Williams delivered a hyper-realist performance as a pioneer woman in extreme danger in Meek’s Cutoff (2010), with Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, and Shirley Henderson.
Critical applause and a second Oscar nomination followed for Michelle Williams’s brilliant portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn (2011), with Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Eddie Redmayne, Dougray Scott, and Judi Dench, and then opted for her first special effects-driven movie, Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). This project and her decision to work in New York theater (including her Tony-nominated lead performance in David Harrower’s Blackbird with Jeff Daniels) were done with her young daughter in mind.
In 2016, Williams returned to the screen with two of her greatest performances—in Reichardt’s lovely multi-character study, Certain Women, with Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone, and in her third Oscar-nominated role in Kenneth Lonergan’s magnificent drama, Manchester by the Sea, with Casey Affleck (winner of Best Actor), Lucas Hedges, and Kyle Chandler. In a departure, Williams took on a singing role in the blockbuster musical, The Greatest Showman (2017) with Hugh Jackman, and quickly jumped into an utterly different register as Gail Harris, mother of kidnapped heir John Paul Getty III in Ridley Scott’s true-crime drama, All the Money in the World (2017) with Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg.
Re-shoots (involving Plummer replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty) resulted in overtime pay for Williams and Wahlberg, and when reports emerged of the dramatic pay gap between the co-stars (Wahlberg earning $1.5 million to Williams’s $1000), it exploded the running issue of Hollywood’s stark gender pay equity gap.
Although Michelle Williams’s participation in Venom (2018) and the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) gave the actor her biggest-grossing movies to date and a chance to work with British actor Tom Hardy, they were easily forgotten performances in comparison to her hugely praised portrayal of dancer-actor Gwen Verdon in HBO’s ambitious biopic, Fosse/Verdon (2019) with Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse, earning Williams Emmy and Golden Globes awards for a best female actor.
Williams once again joined Reichardt for the role of an artist in Showing Up (2022), with Hong Chau and Maryann Plunkett, followed by Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (2022), in which Spielberg directed Williams portraying a fictionalized version of his mother. Williams is set for her third showbiz portrayal (after Marilyn Monroe and Gwen Verdon) as Peggy Lee in Todd Haynes’ Fever (date to be announced) with Alessandro Nivola.
Kalispell, Montana-born Michelle Williams was raised by parents Carla and author Larry Williams. Her younger sister is Paige, and her three half-siblings from her father Larry’s previous marriage are Sara, Kelley, and Jason. Williams’s family moved to San Diego when she was nine years old, with her parents taking her to auditions in Los Angeles. Michelle Williams arranged for her legal emancipation from her parents at age 15 in order to focus on her acting career and bypass child labor work laws.
She finished her high school curriculum via correspondence and never attended college or university. Michelle Williams was in a relationship with the late actor Heath Ledger from 2004 to 2007. She was married to musician Phil Elverum from 2018 to 2019 and has been married to theater director Thomas Kail since 2020. Williams has two children: Matilda, with Heath Ledger, and son Hart with Kail. Her height is 5’ 4”.
My Dad, the Politician: Michelle Williams’ father ran twice, unsuccessfully, for the Republican nomination for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat.
Professional Teen: Williams, after legally emancipating herself from her parents at age 15, lived by herself in Burbank, Ca., and supported herself in small roles that she later considered to be “embarrassing.”
Ace Trader: Michelle Williams’s father Larry taught her online futures trading, and she used the skills to become the first woman to win the Robbins World Cup Championship, and the third-highest winner ever—with her father still holding the title as all-time champ.