The Tragic Truth About Michelle Williams

For six seasons, Michelle Williams portrayed rebellious teen Jen Lindley in the 1990s teen drama "Dawson's Creek," but she's come a long way in her acting career. The actor has become associated with films known for their heartrending and often dark themes.

Williams' most acclaimed work includes 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," which earned her first Oscar nomination; 2010's heartbreaking movie "Blue Valentine;" 2011's "My Week with Marilyn," in which Williams brilliantly transformed into the iconic movie star; and 2022's coming-of-age film "The Fabelmans."

Tragic themes also seem to play out in Williams' real life. Although she landed her first role in "Baywatch" at 13 years old, it wouldn't be an easy ride for Williams in Hollywood. In addition, she'd find her romantic life splashed all over the front pages of tabloid magazines with the untimely death of her daughter's father, actor Heath Ledger. Balancing her career as a single mother also made her question whether an acting career was justifiable. Although she'd find a way to balance raising her children and her job, Williams' life has had its fair share of ups and downs. Here is the tragic truth of Michelle Williams.

Williams' relationship with her father isn't what it used to be

Michelle Williams spent her childhood in Montana with her parents, Carla and Larry Williams, and four siblings. At the age of 9, the family relocated to San Diego with her parents driving her to acting auditions in Los Angeles. By 15, Williams was legally emancipated from her parents. However, it had nothing to do with bad blood within the family, as she wanted to get the ball rolling on her acting career and bypass child labor laws.

As Williams got older, her relationship with her father changed dramatically, although she had never clarified what led the two to stop speaking. When Williams was 24, her mother and father got divorced. In a 2012 interview with GQ, the actor shared, "We're not in contact at the moment, but maybe that will change." Despite this, Williams reminisced about the good times with her dad, "He taught me how to fish. He taught me how to shoot clay pigeons. He bought me the lightest running shoes. He is certainly where I inherited my independent streak from. He put books in my hands." 

Hollywood had its fair share of challenges for Williams

Although Michelle Williams' parents were comfortable with their daughter pursuing an acting career at a young age and even allowing her to emancipate herself from them, she struggled like many other up-and-coming stars. At 15, Williams moved to Burbank, California, and recalled having eaten pizza for every meal of the day and sleeping on top of an egg crate that acted as her mattress. Sadly, she also met unfavorable people while trying to make it in Hollywood. "There are some really disgusting people in the world, and I met some of them," she shared with The Guardian without going into much detail.

In her interview with GQ, Williams recalled feeling "very, very lonely" making it out on her own. The actor added that she took on way too much responsibility at that time of her life. "It was stupid. I didn't know how much I was taking on. I don't think things through very often — I don't project into the future about how a situation will turn out. Even the simplest things, I'm guilty of making really bad decisions a lot of the time. In my work, it's a capacity that's served me well, but in my life, it can be a problem," she said.

Dawson's Creek changed her perspective on working in television

Landing the recurring role of Jen Lindley on the late '90s teen drama Dawson's Creek changed Michelle Williams' life, as it did for the rest of the cast, including Katie Holmes, James Van Der Beek, and Joshua Jackson. But Williams did not find her time on the show as enjoyable as fans of the beloved series may have thought.

In a 2019 interview with Variety, Williams suggested that she had little say in her character's development throughout the show's six seasons. "While it was an incredible learning experience – we did 22 episodes a year, and you'd be getting scripts last minute, and you had zero input. It was like a factory job." In addition, Williams stated that her experience on "Dawson's Creek" made it difficult for her to star in another TV show. "I don't think I've done television in between then and now because of a fear of loss of input," she said. 

The "Blue Valentine" actor has since given starring in a television series another shot. She starred as Gwen Verdon in the 2019 FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon and will return to FX to star in the miniseries "Dying for Sex."  

Heath Ledger's drug use was the demise of their relationship

Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger had a fast-paced romance that began when they met on the "Brokeback Mountain" set in 2004. After less than a year together, Williams was pregnant with the couple's first child, Matilda, who was born on October 28, 2005. However, their relationship was strained, and by September 2007, they split. A source from People stated, "It was rocky for a while. They did what they could do to make it work."

Several factors may have contributed to Williams and Ledger's break-up, but it has been speculated that his drug use severely affected their relationship. People's Senior Editor, JD Heyman, told Access Hollywood about Ledger's partying lifestyle, "He liked to go out, he was a known user of drugs, he used cocaine." He added, "He had a lifestyle that really wasn't — at least in Michelle Williams' eyes — compatible with raising a child and continuing in that relationship."

Sadly, his drug use would be his demise.

Paparazzi hounded Williams after Ledger's untimely death

Just four months after Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger's split, "The Dark Knight" actor died of an accidental drug overdose in January 2008. The former couple's daughter was 2 years old when Ledger died. In February 2008, Williams broke her silence on the actor's death, stating (via People), "My heart is broken. I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day."

Ledger's death had affected people all over the world, but it also forced Williams to move out of her Brooklyn home as paparazzi hounded the ex-girlfriend and mother of Ledger's only daughter. Speaking to the Daily Beast, Williams recounted how relentless the media was, stating, "I experienced a lot of loss after his death. I lost my city because of all the paparazzi descending upon us." She also told The Guardian how the paparazzi would camp outside her home. "The feeling of being watched goes very, very deep because it cuts you off from living your life."

The actor decided to remove herself and her daughter, Matilda, from their home and relocate Upstate. They have since moved back to the same Brooklyn neighborhood.

She considered quitting acting

With the death of Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams was living as a single mother in the countryside of Upstate New York to give Matilda as much normalcy as she could. On top of this, she considered giving up her acting career. In an interview with The Telegraph, she shared, "I just stopped taking in the world outside me, and when you stop doing that, what's there to act about?"

That changed when she starred in director Derek Cianfrance's movie "Blue Valentine." Williams had read the script in 2003, but Cianfrance did not have the funding to get the film going until he called Williams in 2008 to let her know the movie got the green light and would also star Ryan Gosling. However, with filming in California, Williams refused to move her daughter and told Cianfrance to cast someone else. "It was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make," she recalled. 

With Cianfrance unwilling to replace Williams, he decided to shoot the movie about an hour from her home. It was thrilling news for Williams, who told The Telegraph, "It was my first experience of work being fun in a long, long time. Especially during the first part of making the movie, the falling-in-love part. That was the beginning of feeling myself again for the first time in a long time."

She earned far less than her co-star on All the Money in the World

Michelle Williams was cast as the lead in director Ridley Scott's 2017 crime drama "All the Money in the World." Opposite Williams was actor Kevin Spacey, who was cut from the film when sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against him and replaced with Christopher Plummer. However, Williams had to reshoot several scenes because of the cast change, who, at the time, refused payment. She told USA Today, "I said I'd be wherever they needed me, whenever that needed me." She added, "And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted."

Although USA Today initially reported that all the actors, including Mark Wahlberg, agreed to reshoot the film's scenes for free, this was far from the truth. It was revealed that Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for his time to reshoot several scenes, while Williams was paid less than $1,000. The enormous pay difference highlighted the importance of the gender pay gap, with female actors earning less than their male counterparts.

Williams spoke at a hearing in Washington D.C. in 2019 where she stated (via The Guardian), "This came at no surprise to me, it simply reinforced my life-learned belief that equality is not an inalienable right and that women would always be working just as hard for less money while shouldering more responsibility at home." Wahlberg later donated his salary.

She rushed into relationships that ultimately failed

Michelle Williams entered into a relationship just months after Heath Ledger's death. In July 2008, the actor was romantically linked to Spike Jonze, a producer of the film "Synecdoche, New York," in which Williams starred. However, the pair split just a little over a year after she confirmed the news in an interview with Vogue in October 2009.

Sharing just what went wrong in their relationship, the "Venom" actor said (via Us Weekly), "The timing was impossible. I thought falling in love again was the only thing that was going to save me from the pain. This erroneous idea: It just makes things more complicated." 

Williams jumped into a few more relationships that all ended as soon as they began. In March 2012, she was linked to actor Jason Segel, but they broke up a year later. Williams had also briefly dated Dustin Yellin, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Andrew Youmans, to whom she was once engaged.

Her first marriage didn't last long either

Falling in love seemed difficult for Michelle Williams. She once told Vogue in 2009 that being a single mother might have something to do with it. "I obviously don't know how to do it," she shared. However, her low-key marriage to musician Phil Elverum seemed promising. The two secretly wed in July 2018 in the Adirondack Mountains among a few close friends.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, in which Williams opened up about Elverum, she shared, "I've never once in my life talked about a relationship, but Phil isn't anyone else. And that's worth something. Ultimately, the way he loves me is the way I want to live my life as a whole." Unfortunately, Williams and Elverum weren't meant to be. Just less than a year as a married couple, they called it quits in April 2019. A source for People reported that Williams had rushed the relationship, adding, "She has too many responsibilities and jumped quickly into a permanent relationship without giving it a chance to work into something over time."

Williams ended up finding her match in theatre director Thomas Kail. In December 2019, People reported that the two were secretly engaged and Williams was pregnant with their first child. They secretly married sometime in March 2020. The couple welcomed their son, Hart, in June 2020 and their second child in October 2022. 

She backed away from starring in a film closely related to her life

Michelle Williams had the chance to star in director Bradley Rust Gray's 2022 film "Blood," a movie years in the making, but it hit too close to home for the actor. The film is based on a widow coping with the loss of her husband and finding comfort in an old friend, with that friendship slowly turning into something more. However, all that real-life grief had Williams respectfully backing out.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Gray talked about how the movie came to be thanks to Williams' experience with loss. Williams also thought of the film's title. "We both shared this weight of death and the feeling that you always carry that weight when somebody close to you dies," he said. Gray added, "When we were getting ready to shoot the film, she realized it was all a little too close for her still, and she politely bowed out."

In an interview with The Moveable Fest, Gray stressed that he and Williams had no animosity. "But when it got closer, it was a little too close, and it was actually okay because it opened the film then to be a little bit more universal. ... And in a way I think I wouldn't have developed this story [without her]."

She found it hard to be away from her children

Michelle Williams has never hidden that she has a solid connection to her children. She's found it challenging to be away from them when working, especially when she became a single mother raising her daughter, Matilda. In an interview with The Guardian, she questioned whether working was worth losing time with Matilda, "But what makes it hard to sleep at night is wondering: 'What did I do today and was it any good? Was it good enough to justify the time I missed out on with my daughter? The time I put into it?' That's what I find hard to live with.'"

Showing just how devoted she was to motherhood, Williams even dedicated her Golden Globe win (via Award Show Network) for her role in "My Week with Marilyn" to Matilda. "I consider myself a mother first and an actress second, and so the person I most want to thank is my daughter, my little girl, whose bravery and exuberance is the example that I take with me in my work and in my life."

Despite years of balancing work and being a mom, Williams appeared to have it down pat. "Balance means that you're always adjusting. So you have to figure it out because we have to stay in the workforce, even though it often feels like it's untenable. My heart obviously belongs to my children ... But I really want to be able to have both," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2023.