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Wednesday 15 August 2018

It's a Valentine's day for Heath's ex

Michelle Williams, star of Blue Valentine, was frank and funny with Paul Byrne

This time three years ago, it must have been tempting for Michelle Williams to pack in this acting lark.

Here was an actress who had always been what she herself refers to as "press-shy". Just like her ex-partner -- and father of their daughter, Matilda Rose (now five years old) -- Heath Ledger.

This time three years ago, there was a custody battle looming between the two, Williams and Ledger having met on the set of 2004's Brokeback Mountain. They officially announced their split in September 2007.

And then, on January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger was found dead from an accidental overdose. And that's when Michelle Williams' very private life became very public. Three years later, the paparazzi still hover around the Brooklyn townhouse she shares with Matilda.

To explain their presence, Williams tell her daughter that the paparazzi are big fans of her late father, and that they simply want to make sure his daughter is doing okay.

Finally beginning to enjoy her work again, Williams says of the shooting of her latest movie, the dark, romantic tale Blue Valentine, that it's the first time that work has been fun "in a long, long time". It's also a very fine movie, one that explores the devolution of devotion with little compromise. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance was initially inspired by the Supremes hit, Where Did Our Love Go?.

When I caught up with Williams on the phone, she was busy playing mum, but in a surprisingly playful mood. Perhaps because Blue Valentine is shaping up to be one of the biggies for the awards season.

She, co-star Ryan Gosling and the film are all up for Golden Globes on Sunday, and Oscar nominations are sure to follow.

For Gosling, recently in London, there's comedy in having spent six weeks making a movie, and more than a year promoting it.

"You know, that's true," Williams laughs. "I've always been press-shy, I suppose. But then, I came to understand movies like Blue Valentine -- and a lot of the movies that I like to make -- don't have the kind of budget for promotion that big films do. And so it becomes your duty, if you want people to see it, to take it out into the world and kind of show it off. "

It was in December 2003 that Williams first read the Blue Valentine script, and it would be another six years before she actually shot it. A lot happened to Williams in those six years, so, was the movie gradually transformed, too?

Williams pauses. "Yeah, I suppose it was. I read the film so many times over the years, because it had, at so many points, looked like it was ready to be made.

"Which is tricky, because I fell in love with this when I first read it, at 21 or 22. But it can be hard to revisit something that you were attracted to when you were still kind of forming." Which, Williams reckons, is what the movie is ultimately all about.

"How do you stand behind a choice that you made when you were not the person that you are today? The project and I changed at the same rate."

Given the hard sell that Williams' movies tend to be -- with other recent offerings such as Mammoth and Wendy And Lucy more arthouse than mainstream -- is she ever tempted to throw on a bikini and just grin and bear Matthew McConaughey?

Williams searches her words before answering firmly in the negative. "I read this book to my daughter, called Just Enough And Not Too Much [by Kaethe Zemach], and I think, you know, the lesson that I'm trying to impart to her is that it's important not to be greedy. I need to practise those lessons. So, I feel like that about the movies that I make.

"Besides, there are people who are better than me at making those kinds of movies, and they want to make those movies. So, why not let them do it?"

I tell Williams she's attractive and talented enough to make me think there must be Irish blood in there somewhere . . .

"You know, I think I've heard rumours of it on my dad's side, so, let's just say yes."

Blue Valentine is in cinemas now

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