Hol­ly­wood ca­reer evo­lu­tion lets Venom ac­tress re­al­ize her own worth

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - WEEKEND - LIND­SEY BAHR

Michelle Wil­liams can’t be­lieve it’s been less than a year since “the pay stuff.” Time has seem­ingly ac­cel­er­ated since last Oc­to­ber when, while shoot­ing the comic book movie Venom, the unimag­in­able be­gan to hap­pen: Ti­tans of her in­dus­try started to fall un­der #MeToo.

Then months later, af­ter reshoots for All the Money in the World, which were hur­riedly com­pleted to re­move scenes fea­tur­ing one of the ac­cused, Kevin Spacey, Wil­liams be­came the cen­tre of a very pub­lic con­tro­versy over a vast pay dis­crep­ancy be­tween her­self and her co-star Mark Wahlberg. She was paid less than $1,000 for the reshoots. He got $1.5 mil­lion. (All fig­ures in U.S. dollars.)

It’s also a year in which she mar­ried mu­si­cian Phil Elverum, and started mak­ing some atyp­i­cal ca­reer choices for a four-time Os­car nom­i­nee who has in her adult­hood al­ways veered to­ward art house films of direc­tors such as Kelly Re­ichardt and away from the com­mer­cial, from big bud­gets and from comic book films like the one she’s cur­rently pro­mot­ing.

Dur­ing a pro­mo­tional day for her lat­est film, Venom, Wil­liams cranes her neck per­for­ma­tiv­ity to look at the some­what grotesque poster be­hind her, half of which is star Tom Hardy’s face, and the other half is the tar-like peo­pleeat­ing alien “sym­biote” that he be­comes. “Nope,” she says. “Doesn’t seem like me!”

But Wil­liams is find­ing that she’s ready to take some chances and to bet on her­self.

“I’m rec­og­niz­ing my own strength and my own worth,” she said. “I’m 38 and it’s just hap­pen­ing.” Plus she wanted to work with Hardy.

“She’s one of the best ac­tors out there work­ing to­day,” said Venom di­rec­tor Ruben Fleis­cher. He wor­ried that she wouldn’t want to do it, but Wil­liams said she was only flat­tered by the of­fer.

“It’s not like peo­ple are al­ways ask­ing me to be in these kinds of movies,” Wil­liams said. “I thought it would be fun to try some­thing on a larger scale and to see if I can re­lax.”

Venom is a char­ac­ter in the Spi­der-Man comics, and the $100-mil­lion film is a part of Sony Pic­tures’ ef­forts to cre­ate an ex­tended Spi­der-Man Uni­verse with the Marvel char­ac­ters it li­censes. (Spidey does not ap­pear in Venom.)

Wil­liams plays Anne Wey­ing, the ex-fi­ancé of Hardy’s Ed­die Brock. She was able to make the char­ac­ter her own, from the busi­nesslike cos­tumes (some of which she shopped for her­self ) down to the di­a­logue.

“There were cer­tain lines that I felt were too pas­sive or sweet. I wanted to make sure that she could stand her ground,” Wil­liams said, cit­ing the Howard Hawks clas­sic His Girl Fri­day as in­spi­ra­tion for the equal dynamic she wanted to con­vey.

“I wanted it to be un­mis­tak­able that it was made in a #MeToo era. I said, ‘I know that you guys won’t let me wear a #MeToo T-shirt, but that’s the vibe that I want.’”

The #MeToo mo­ment and the pay de­ba­cle have made Wil­liams re­flect on her ca­reer and ex­pe­ri­ences up to this point and what it might mean for her 12-year-old daugh­ter, Matilda Ledger.

“It was re­ally tough when I was younger. You do get put in these sit­u­a­tions with all of these men. You’re al­ways talk­ing to men, be­ing pho­tographed by men. And I didn’t know that I had an­other choice. I didn’t know that I could say no. I didn’t know I could say stop. I just didn’t grow up with any of that lan­guage. And I never thought that it would change. I just thought that I would have to teach my daugh­ter the lan­guage,” Wil­liams said. “Now, in Amer­ica, I feel like our daugh­ters are go­ing to grow up with a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of what’s pos­si­ble, what they’re en­ti­tled to.

“My daugh­ter knows that she can say what­ever she wants. But I didn’t.”

And her life has changed dra­mat­i­cally in the past year, although at first it didn’t seem like it would. It took more than six weeks for the pay dis­crep­ancy story to take off af­ter break­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post in late Novem­ber.

“When that story came out, no one called me. Not a sin­gle per­son was like, ‘Oh bum­mer for you.’ Not a sin­gle per­son. It re­in­forced this men­tal­ity that no­body cares and you’re com­pletely alone out there,” Wil­liams said.

It would take the one-two punch of a tweet from her friend Jes­sica Chas­tain and a USA To­day piece dur­ing the Golden Globe Awards in Jan­uary for the story to hit a cul­tural nerve that would re­sult in Wahlberg do­nat­ing his $1.5 mil­lion fee to #TimesUp. Their shared tal­ent agency, Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deavor, added $500,000.

“For me the hero of that story is Chas­tain,” Wil­liams said. “I owe her so much.”

She hopes that her pub­lic strug­gle has helped em­bolden other women out­side of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Wil­liams is now earn­ing equal pay on a project for the first time in her life, for the FX Bob Fosse se­ries, and with films like Venom, is “open­ing up” her def­i­ni­tion of her­self.

Af­ter Daw­son’s Creek, where she said “no­body thought kindly or even at all about my work,” Wil­liams worked hard to establish her­self as a se­ri­ous artist and earn re­spect from those in her in­dus­try. She took on films such as Broke­back Moun­tain, Synec­doche, New York and her films with Re­ichardt: Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cut­off and Cer­tain Women.

She’s wor­ried that she might be trad­ing some of that as she at­tempts other medi­ums.

“Am I go­ing to have to let go of my iden­tity? Or let go of any of that re­spect? Be­cause it re­ally meant a lot to me,” she said.

She’s also giv­ing her­self a break, too.

“I would be hap­pi­est prob­a­bly mak­ing Kelly Re­ichardt films for the rest of my life. It’s re­ally where my heart is,” she said. “But I live in New York City and I have kids go­ing to pri­vate school and I have other con­sid­er­a­tions as I get older and I just think, well, what if there is more for me?”


Four-time Os­car nom­i­nee Michelle Wil­liams, left, stars with Tom Hardy in the big-bud­get Venom.

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