In "Wendy and Lucy," director Kelly Reichardt's quietly compelling look at life in transition, Michelle Williams plays one half of the title pair, a young woman who with her dog Lucy finds herself stranded in the Pacific Northwest while trying to make her way up to Alaska. In a performance of subtle power, Williams is somehow both understated and overwhelming.
Williams appeared in Sharon Maguire's "Incendiary," which premiered at Sundance this year. Coming up, she also has "Mammoth" with Swedish director Lukas Moodysson and "Shutter Island" with Martin Scorsese.
There's something so enigmatic about "Wendy and Lucy" [opening Dec. 12], so spacious and hard to pin down. It's tough to imagine what some moments read like in the script, especially when Wendy is by herself.
I think that's probably why it was a short story first, because the descriptions are unfilmable. That's why I fell so hard for it, because of those things you couldn't capture on film. There's this moment we really tried to shoot because I loved it so much, and it was impossible. Near the end, it says something like, "She pauses in a patch of sunlight and feels the warmth. At least the sun is still free." I just felt like we had to get that, one good feeling that doesn't cost. And we tried it and couldn't relay it, so we gave up. But it became suffused with a feeling, all this stuff that I could think about, and take a lot of feeling from, but not actually show.
Was there ever a temptation to have a moment where Wendy explains herself, tells somebody her story? I couldn't help but wait for that scene.
That's what I felt like when I read the script -- where's that really meaty reveal? Why is Wendy the way she is and why has she been spun adrift? When's that coming? And it never did, and I thought it was such an exciting challenge as an actor to live without that. It did feel like a constant risk to not give her away, to not over-articulate it and trust people would still find there's a person there and attach themselves to her.
You shot "Wendy and Lucy" right after you filmed a role in Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York." It's interesting because one is so willfully simplistic and straightforward, while the other is so purposefully complicated and elaborate.
They were back to back. It proved to be a good contrast. I wanted to get back to a way of working; my career has changed so much in the last few years, and I sort of lost my sense of how I work best. All of a sudden, there was pressure and responsibility, and I felt people were watching in a way I wasn't accustomed to, and it made me clam up a little bit. "Wendy and Lucy" was a way to free myself up again, like take one for free, just go out into the wilderness and throw out an experiment and feel loose again, to do something in private and in a really safe, tight bubble of an environment.
Can you talk a little more about where that pressure was coming from? Looking at your filmography, there's only one semi-egregious studio film that would maybe be the result of that [spring's "Deception"].
It was that. I took that one really hard. . . . I just lost my way a little bit. The first movie I made after the Oscars was like eight months later or something, a really small role in Todd Haynes' film, and then I did that other thing. I suppose it held some interest because I'd never done anything like that, so in a way it was kind of new ground, I could justify it like that. But mostly I was just trying to adhere to a formula or something. Ultimately, I'm at peace with it and I blamed myself; I was really hard on myself for making that choice, but I learned more from that than anything. It gave me a sense of myself, it was a really important boundary check. And I also think, if I'm going to keep doing this, I'm going to have to give myself the grace of being able to make mistakes.
"Wendy and Lucy" was made on an extremely low budget with a very small crew. Having made a film as intimate and artisanal as this, does it feel funny to have it competing, if that's the word, in the gamesmanship of the awards race?
The dress and shoes I wore last night must have been half of our budget. The way to promote a film is in such contrast to the way that we made the film. I feel closer to this than many things that I've made, and so I'm excited to see it catch on and I want to help it as much as I can. It's a funny line for me because I feel very self-protective and very private but, at the same time, I want to see it do as well as it can out in the world.