Michelle Williams on Preparation, Doubt and Playing Gwen Verdon

“I do all of this preparation and training and thinking and working, and then I don’t know what’s going to happen, which makes each day, to be totally honest with you, absolutely terrifying” – Michelle Williams

On the heels of critical acclaim for her performance in Fosse/Verdon, Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams has been talking about her role as four-time Tony Award winner Gwen Verdon. In an interview with IndieWire, Williams explains that despite how confident she might appear in her roles, she confesses that she doesn’t really know where they might take her.

When asked to explain her performance in a particular scene (the episode 7 phone conversation between Sam Rockwell‘s Bob Fosse and Verdon), Williams admits that she has little idea of where the performance came from and explains how that informs her performance:

I have no idea what’s happening. I have absolutely no idea. I do all of this preparation and training and thinking and working, and then I don’t know what’s going to happen, which makes each day, to be totally honest with you, absolutely terrifying and excruciating in a way, because before each take, of each set up, with each scene, of each day, I don’t know what I’m going to do and I don’t know what is going to happen.

And so it’s a little bit like being pushed off a cliff and hoping that you learn how to fly every single time. There is no knowing. I don’t ever know the precise path to get to the work. I just know that sometimes it opens up and that when I have experiences of it opening up more consistently, all I can do is bank on the past. I can’t anticipate the future.

I never know what’s coming. It got to the point where I started to refer to Gwen as her own entity, “She feels like this or she wants to do this.” It felt like somebody who sort of jumped in and out of me. She wasn’t me. She was outside of me, and then sometimes she would come into me and I would say, “Oh, she liked that,” or, “Wasn’t that funny when she was tapping her feet,” because I wouldn’t know exactly how she would manifest herself.

Because I don’t look at the monitor. I don’t look at photo stills. I don’t observe from the outside in any way whatsoever. I keep my connection internal and I really try and stay for her point of view as much as I possibly can.

In Fosse/Verdon, Williams needs to be a triple threat: she acts, sings, and dances. When asked by the interviewer if that amounted to her feeling like it was “insurmountable challenges” while filming, she responded:

Honestly, I think it feels like that every day. It feels like that every scene, every day, but it’s like doubt that’s also mixed with faith. You sort of have equal parts of both, but the doubt never goes away.

It’s ever-present. I would go so far as to say it’s before every single take. “I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, I don’t know how to do it, but I’m going to do it.”

More: Actors on Acting Michelle Williams on Her Broadway Return in ‘Blackbird’: “This is the work of my dreams”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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