Oscar Roles: Williams, Michelle–Manchester by the Sea

Michelle Williams’ performance in Manchester by the Sea is short about 11 minutes or so.  She plays Casey Affleck’s ex-wife Randi, who divorces him after a family tragedy.

But the part earned Williams her fourth Oscar nomination.

Hardest part? The look? The accent?

I think they all really go together. Without a carefully constructed building, the whole thing falls apart. I treated all of the aspects equally seriously.

Shorter roles 

What is difficult about shorter roles is that they still require the same amount of preparation. You have to communicate an entire person in a very short span of time.

Building a character?

It was really important that I spend a lot of time thinking about the intervening years and the difference between who she was then and who she is now. None of that was written in the script. Writer-director Kenny Lonergan didn’t offer any of those ideas. I knew that was my job. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to layer in things that aren’t really spoken about.


What I really tried to think about was how to put this person back together. How did she decide to get out of bed? After that, how did she decide to get dressed? After that, how did she decide to go to the mall and get a haircut? How did she choose life? I really thought about step after agonizing step. To stay alive after that kind of tragedy takes concerted, conscious effort. That is survival on an extraordinary level.

Favorite scene?

I find enjoyment in the moment between action and cut, but thinking and anticipating the moment is a little stressful, especially when you have Kenny’s script. You want to fulfill the promise of it all. The moment between action and cut is like a deep state of forgetfulness and remembering at the same time. You sort of let go. I let myself, for a brief period of time, suspend all my self-judgment and self-criticism and insecurity. I am always willing to risk embarrassment. What is the worst thing that can happen? I am trying to allow myself to make mistakes.

Similarity with character?

The ways that you are different are the things you need to concentrate on. That’s the ground you really need to make up. So I don’t think too much about the similarity, I just think about where my understanding hits a gap and what I need to do to fill it in. That’s the fun of it, really.

Reaction to Oscar nomination?

I’m the happiest and luckiest girl in town, and I don’t take a second of it for granted. I feel so fortunate to be in this position; I really cannot believe my good luck.