Michelle Williams isn’t the actress you’d most expect to see in a movie like “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” but the three-time Oscar nominee turns out to be a perfect choice for a fresh spin on iconic “Good Witch” Glinda.
In a movie that pays respectful homage to one of the all-time cinematic greats, 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Williams emerges as the star most at ease with that connection to classic Hollywood glamor and grace. Making a movie that her seven-year-old daughter Matilda can actually watch had to be an added bonus.
You’ve never really made a movie on this scale before, with this kind of budget. Were you actively looking to try that out?
Michelle Williams: To be totally honest, it’s something that I didn’t even really consider. I just get attracted to people. I get compelled by the outline of the character on the page and then come hell or high water I’m gonna do it. The thing about it is it doesn’t really happen very often. It’s not like I’m having to choose between all this great material. So when that connection does happen I tend to fall regardless of certain factors like it’s big or it’s small or the director is this or that. I didn’t really entertain the scope of the thing.
And you also don’t usually make movies with this much action and stunt work.
No, I don’t. In a way it’s kind of fun. It gets your heart going and there’s a real adrenaline rush from it and a strange sense of pride you derive from rolling down the stairs so many times. It’s weirdly satisfying to do that physical stuff. I don’t know exactly what it is that felt so good about falling down the stairs 12 times. I don’t know why I felt so puffed up when I finally got it right.
I imagine it must feel a little like being a kid at play, especially when you’re in a movie with all these fantasy elements.
When you do something physical it doesn’t give you the same amount of time to be critical, in a way. Half of your brain is involved in doing the physical thing and so the other stuff comes out so instinctually. That’s kind of nice. It does have a kind of — especially the wire work, the flying, had a real playground element.
During a press conference earlier today, you said the “Wizard of Oz” character you felt most connected to was the Cowardly Lion. I’ve always thought of you as a brave actress, so where does the cowardly part come in?
I guess maybe it’s more in my life that I feel like [that]. In my work I feel freed from some of the things I walk around with on a day to day basis. The work is like a disguise. The work isn’t really me. I get to act out in ways that I don’t feel comfortable enough to do in my real life. Maybe that’s where the cowardly lion fits in, it’s more Michelle.
And you felt that way even when you saw “The Wizard of Oz” as a young girl?
I really did. Obviously all little girls I think are so mesmerized by Dorothy, but in a way she felt so untouchable. Her voice was just perfection. God, she’s brilliant in that movie! There’s not a false note acted or sung. She’s so good. So maybe the Cowardly Lion felt a little more within my range of possibilities!
Most of your scenes in “Oz” are with James Franco. What was it like working with him and was it different at all from what you expected?
I don’t know if I had any expectations. I found him very easy to communicate with and collaborate with in rehearsals, and I felt comfortable with him too, pretty quickly. Comfortable enough to make mistakes and try out weird blocking and all that kind of stuff. I just really valued the relationship that we had. On set he’s a blast to work with. He’s really funny and he’s got lots of ideas. But I also liked poking him on the shoulder, like ‘So what are you reading? And why is it so great? And what does so-and-so say about that?’ He’s very generous with his information and his knowledge. You ask him one question and he’s the kind of guy that the next day you’ve got five books waiting for you in your trailer, and I love that.
Was there something he recommended that has really stuck with you?
A lot of poetry. There was this one book of poems by Tony Hoagland. There’s this poem about walking through a mall and listening to a Muzak version of Bob Dylan and he wrote, “I understood there’s nothing we can’t pluck the stinger from.” I just loved, loved, that line.
I understand a lot of your career decisions now are made with your daughter in mind, and many actors say working in TV helps provide stability for their family lives. Have you thought about doing a series again? There are so many great people going into TV now, Todd Haynes, Steven Soderbergh…
Yeah, that’s right, and I think like maybe the rest of America — and hopefully soon the world — I’m such a rabid fan of “Girls.” I have dreams of meeting Lena Dunham and what I would say. [TV] is definitely not out of the question for me. My daughter is still young so she’s still able and willing to go with me to these [movie locations], and she’s very adaptable and social so she can go to these new schools. But if it comes to a point, which I’m sure will come, when she really needs to stay home and have continuity then that’s probably something I would consider.