For six seasons, she played the beautiful yet complicated Jen Lindley on Dawson’s Creek. Flash forward t0 2011 and this teenager is now a woman in her thirties with many award nominations, including an Oscar nod for her turn as a lonely, trapped wife in Brokeback Mountain.
Now, after playing these deeply depressing characters, she is beginning to embrace her “new life,” which can only come from growing up and understanding who she is. It doesn’t hurt that she was chosen to play iconic sexpot/actress, Marilyn Monroe in the film My Week With Marilyn. But what hides underneath this willowy, Mia Farrow-esque actress? “I think Nabokov once said that genius is finding the invisible link between things. And that’s how I choose to see life. Everything’s connected, and everything has meaning if you look for it.”
The idea of playing such an iconic figure was daunting. “As soon as I finished the script, I knew that I wanted to do it, and then I spent six months trying to talk myself out of it,” she says. “But I always knew that I never really had a choice. I’ve started to believe that you get the piece of material that you were ready for.”
She’s also intrigued by Monroe’s way of being both an adult and a little girl, a dichotomy hard to genuinely find in this world. “I’ve always thought of her as that woman-child, not an icon, which is probably why I let myself approach the role.”
Williams didn’t become Marilyn overnight; her transformation took six months, learning all that she could and delving into everything Monroe. She read biographies, diaries, letters, poems, and notes, fixated on photos, listened to recordings, watched movies, and tracked down obscure clips on YouTube. “I’d go to bed every night with a stack of books next to me,” she said. “And I’d fall asleep to movies of her. It was like when you were a kid and you’d put a book under your pillow hoping you’d get it by osmosis.”
Her turn from indie waif to Hollywood sex goddess involved working with a choreographer to perfect Monroe’s walk and gaining weight to approximate her curves. “Unfortunately, it went right to my face,” she says. “So at some point it became a question of, Do I want my face to look like Marilyn Monroe’s or my hips?” Eventually, she settled for padding to help create the hourglass look that Monroe was famous for and is still iconic.
After it was all over, “it felt like being reborn. It felt like breaking my body and remaking it in her image, learning how she walked and talked and held her head. None of that existed in my physical memory, and I knew I needed as much time as possible to make it part of me.”
Written by Amanda Nowitz