IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Michelle Williams says she felt ‘frozen’ after success of ‘Brokeback Mountain’

“What if I make a mistake?” she recalled to Willie Geist on “Sunday Sitdown” in a candid interview about some of her Oscar-nominated roles.
/ Source: TODAY

Michelle Williams' experience in 2005 as a first-time Oscar-nominated actor brought newfound fame and with that, newfound pressure.

"It was really unnerving after that," she said on Sunday Sitdown April 2. "Like, what do you do? What do you do next?"

In a candid interview with Willie Geist, Williams opened up about some of her notable roles over the years, touching on the stressors that came with success as well as how parenting has changed her career.

Michelle Williams, Willie Geist
Michelle Williams on Sunday Sitdown.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

The 42-year-old actor was first nominated in 2006 for her role in "Brokeback Mountain." She was 25 at the time.

"I never really had attention on me before in that kind of a way, and I think that that attention can be sort of destabilizing," she recalled.

The 'Blue Valentine' actor has five Oscar nominations total, the most recent one for her role in 2022 film "The Fabelmans." She was also nominated for "Blue Valentine," "My Week with Marilyn" and "Manchester by the Sea."

The "Dawson's Creek" actor says she initially felt like her first nomination took away some of her leeway to try new things.

"Now it feels like, 'Well, people are watching. What if I make a mistake? That’s really scary. What would happen to me?' So I think I felt a little bit frozen for a moment, creatively, about where I would go next, because I felt so free to try things before that, because I didn’t think anybody was really paying attention or really cared that much."

She said "there was a lot of liberation" in growing, developing, studying and experimenting. She shared that she had to "really get tough inside to continue to experiment" while under the public eye she was feeling for the first time.

Fast forward to January, and Williams has received her fifth nomination for her work in "The Fabelmans," a film about director Steven Spielberg's childhood.

But this time around, the hardest part about being nominated was letting go of the family that came with the role, she said.

"It was so hard to say goodbye to," she said. "Something that was really nice about the film (getting) all these great nominations was that we were brought back together, and so we could see each other again at these events and we could reunite and be the Fabelmans."

"We loved each other," she said of the cast and crew. "Realizing that the Oscars was our last go-around was really sad to me that we weren’t gonna be united by this project anymore."

Williams, a mother of three to Matilda, 17, Hart, 3, and an infant who isn’t quite 1 yet, played Mitzi, a character based on Steven Spielberg's mother, Leah Adler.

She still admires how Mitzi parented, she said.

"She raised four children, and all four of them adore her and she gave them what children really want, which is attention and the ability to play, which can be difficult (when) there’s so many other things that have to get done," Williams said. "It can be hard to create that much time with your kids to do what they want to do, to see things the way that they see them, to get on their level."

She said Mitzi was able to do that for kids who ended up "reaping the benefits as adults."

"She really extended their imagination playground," Williams said. "I think about that with these very young kids that I have now."

The "I Feel Pretty" actor also explained how she's learned to manage her career with parenthood.

"At a certain point I realized, 'Oh, geography is everything,' she said. "When my daughter was younger, I took more on-the-road jobs because she was so little. And then I think they reach an age when they need to embed themselves with their school, and their friends, and their activities.

"Okay, we’re grounded.... Grounded like an airplane," she said with a laugh as she recalled Matilda coming of age. "So I started doing theater."

"We’ve figured out a way to make it work and stay at home," she said.