Tragic Details About Michelle Williams

Trigger warning: The following article contains language regarding drug use and sensitive issues.

You would assume that Michelle Williams has won several Oscars, given her long list of credits in hit films. From "Brokeback Mountain" to the devastating "Blue Valentine," and of course, Steven Spielberg's "The Fabelmans." But alas, Williams has only been nominated for her groundbreaking performances in these films and has yet to win. This is just one of the many tragic details (and injustices) that have befallen the actress in her three-decade-long career.

In the early '90s, before anyone knew the blonde-haired icon, she made brief appearances in "Baywatch" and "Home Improvement," but it wasn't until 1998 that Williams nabbed a role that would change everything. Playing Jen Lindley for six seasons on the hit teen drama series "Dawson's Creek" made her a star. Suddenly, she was booking countless roles, and it seemed like she was everywhere. From an outsider's perspective, you could say that she had it all.

But of course, everything was not as it seemed. The same can be said for many celebrities, but Williams seems to have experienced quite a few heartbreaking events in her life. From the difficulties Williams faced as she attempted to break into the entertainment business to her highly publicized romance with the late Heath Ledger, the "Manchester by the Sea" actress has seen it all. So, let's delve into some of the many tragic details about Michelle Williams.

Michelle Williams has a rocky relationship with her father

Born into a big family, Michelle Williams spent her early years in Montana with three older half-siblings from her father's previous relationship and her younger sister. Her parents, Carla and Larry Williams, moved the family to San Diego when she was 9 years old. Just six years later, Williams would legally emancipate. This wasn't done out of malice, but rather to bypass child acting laws, and she did so with her parents' permission. However, the actress and her father (who is an author, investment guru, and former Republican Senate nominee) don't seem to have the best relationship now, nearly three decades later.

In an interview with GQ in 2012, Williams said that she and her father weren't on speaking terms at the time. "We're not in contact at the moment, but maybe that will change," she said. Growing up, Williams said she and her father were close. "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," she said about her dad. After reminiscing, the actress broke down, saying, "I wasn't expecting this. I thought I'd gotten so good at this recently." 

Little has come out about Williams' relationship with her father since. But thankfully, Williams is still close with her mother, who divorced Larry when their daughter was 24.

She had a difficult start in Hollywood

Moving out on your own for the first time can prove challenging, but especially so if you're only 15, have decided to move to Burbank, and are trying to make it as an actress. That's exactly what Michelle Williams decided to do, but in hindsight, she thinks that she took on too much responsibility at such a young age. Speaking with GQ, she shared her thoughts on the topic. "It was just stupid. I didn't know what I was taking on," she said. Williams added that she has a tendency to not "project into the future about how a situation will turn out," and while it's helped her professionally, it's caused some issues in her personal life.

Living on her own, Williams didn't take very good care of herself. She ate pizza for every meal of the day and avoided the dentist until she was in her 20s. And, as a young girl making it on her own in '90s La-La Land, the young actress was vulnerable. As she explained to The Guardian, "There are some really disgusting people in the world, and I met some of them." While she didn't delve into details, she did comment on the #MeToo movement during her interview. Responding to her interviewer's surprise that more names weren't highlighted as perpetrators of sexual misconduct at the height of the movement, Williams replied, "Maybe there's still hope for that."

Michelle Williams didn't love working on Dawson's Creek

"Dawson's Creek" was the backdrop of many childhoods, as it made for quintessential teenage viewing in the late '90s and early '00s. The show helped put countless stars on the map, including Katie Holmes, James Van Der Beek, and Joshua Jackson, and it was Michelle Williams' first recurring role. But, as it turns out, she didn't actually enjoy working on the show.

In a 2019 interview with Variety, Williams revealed her true feelings about filming "Dawson's Creek." She said, "While it was an incredible experience ... you'd be getting scripts at the last minute and you had zero input. It was a little like a factory job." The actress added that working on the show had even impacted her decision to work on any television series again. "I don't think I've done television in between then and now because of a fear of loss of input."

That same year, Williams spoke with Vulture about the difficult decision she made about returning to television for the FX series "Fosse/Verdon." When I got out of television, it felt like a stain on you. It was hard work to erase it and to ask to be looked at in a different new way." She explained that because of her experience on "Dawson's Creek," "I was afraid of putting myself in a position where I was going to commit to something and then eventually be asked to do something that I didn't want to do."

Her relationship with Heath Ledger was tumultuous

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams met while filming "Brokeback Mountain" in 2004, and they quickly fell in love. The film's screenwriter, Diana Ossana, told Out Magazine that after Williams injured her knee during a take, Ledger accompanied her to the hospital. "I remember him looking at her, and she looking up at him with these wide eyes. She was almost startled by the attention he was giving her, but you could see it every day from thereon. For him it was truly love at first sight."

Ledger and Williams announced they were expecting a child after less than a year together, and on October 28th, 2005, they welcomed baby Matilda to the world. Sadly, the couple's relationship was less than perfect. As a source told People, "It was rocky for a while. They did what they could to make it work." Williams and Ledger split in September 2007, and they continued to co-parent Matilda. 

Little was known about why they broke up, but speculation arose when Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose just four months later. People's Senior Editor, JD Heyman, told Access Hollywood in 2008, "[Ledger] liked to go out, he was a known user of drugs ... He had a lifestyle that really wasn't — at least in Michelle William's eyes — compatible with raising a child and continuing in that relationship."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Heath Ledger's death was devastating for her

Even though they broke up, Michelle Williams still had a lot of love left for Heath Ledger, and his death had a deep impact on her. Initially, she was reluctant to talk about his death and needed time and space from the public to grieve. In 2010, Williams spoke with ABC News to promote her movie, "Blue Valentine," which she starred in alongside Ryan Gosling, but she also commented on finding meaning in Ledger's death. "I've found meanings around the circumstance but the actual event itself ... I can't find a meaning for it. I can find meanings in things and people and relationships that have ... strengthened. I can find a lot of meaning in that. But not in why," she explained.

Not only was Ledger's death devastating, but the public's reaction became too much for the actress to bear as well. In 2011, Williams explained to the Daily Beast that the media frenzy following the death of her ex-boyfriend and father of her child changed her life forever. "I experienced a lot of loss after his death. I lost my city because of all the paparazzi descending upon us," she said. The paparazzi became relentless, so wanting to find sanctuary and protect her daughter, Williams bought a house in upstate New York. She moved herself and Matilda out of the city and away from prying eyes for many years.

She nearly gave up acting

After Heath Ledger died, Michelle Williams found herself considering stepping away from her acting career. Speaking with The Telegraph, she said, "I just stopped taking in the world outside me, and when you stop doing that what's there to act about?" Not only did the emotional turmoil play a role, but Williams had also just moved her daughter upstate and had no intentions to disrupt her life further.

In 2003, she had read the script of Derek Cianfrance's film "Blue Valentine," and she became his top pick to play the lead character, but the filmmaker struggled to secure funding and the movie was put on hold. Finally, in December 2008, Cianfrance called Williams with good news: the movie was officially going ahead, and they had even secured Ryan Gosling to play alongside her. Initially, Williams refused; after an incredibly turbulent year, she had promised her daughter that they wouldn't be moving. She said giving up this movie was "the most difficult decision I've ever had to make." Thankfully, Cianfrance agreed to film "Blue Valentine" within an hour's drive of Williams' home so she could be close to her daughter.

Filming "Blue Valentine" was exactly what Williams needed. "'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 told The Telegraph.

Michelle Williams was paid much less than her co-star

The gender pay gap has been an issue for more women than you might think, leading many female celebrities to negotiate for better pay. Michelle Williams was one of them after working on the thriller "All the Money in the World" and realizing that she was being drastically underpaid compared to her male co-star.

Kevin Spacey was originally in the film, but following allegations of sexual misconduct, he was subsequently cut, and they had to reshoot several scenes. Where Williams' co-star Mark Wahlberg earned $1.5 million for his time spent reshooting, the actress only received $1,000 in a blatant case of gender-based discrimination. Williams spoke in 2019 at a hearing in Washington DC about the issue (via The Guardian), saying that she felt, "paralyzed in feelings of futility," upon learning of the monumental pay gap between her and Wahlberg.

The actress said, "This came as 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 ... I've been accredited by my industry at the highest levels and that still didn't translate to equal compensation." Wahlberg later donated the salary he earned from "All the Money in the World" to the Time's Up Legal Defence Fund, an organization that supports victims of workplace harassment and discrimination.

She has raised her daughter as a single mother

Parenthood is hard, but having to raise Matilda Ledger as a single mother due to the tragic circumstances of Heath Ledger's death has proven incredibly difficult for Michelle Williams. Many single working parents struggle to balance time with their children and putting food on the table, but Hollywood can often be an entirely different set of circumstances. Long hours on set, often in cities far from home, mean Williams has had to evaluate her standing in Hollywood several times.

Speaking with Elle in 2015 (via People), she said, "I feel like I'm so good at raising a kid when I'm not working. I don't forget anything. I've got everything covered ... Most of my life, I'm trying to do two things at once, both to the best of my abilities. So that leaves me feeling pretty exhausted." Thankfully, Williams hasn't had to do all of it alone and has said that she's relied on friends' help. This included "Succession"'s Jeremy Strong, who moved in for a period to help out with Matilda after Ledger's death.

In a 2016 interview with Porter, Williams spoke on how she keeps going for her daughter. "I feel like I'm a believer in not fighting circumstances, accepting where you are and where you've been ... I would be able to go totally down that line of thinking were it not for Matilda not having her dad ... It just won't ever be right."

She jumped into another relationship too soon after Heath Ledger's death

Time heals all wounds, but that wasn't what Michelle Williams was thinking when she began dating director, producer, writer, and actor Spike Jonze just months after Heath Ledger died. A few months prior to Williams and Ledger calling it quits in September 2007, she had met Jonze while filming "Synecdoche, New York." Perhaps there was already some chemistry there, because by July 2008, the actress and Jonze were an item. After just over a year together, Williams confirmed their split in September 2009. As she told Vogue (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."

The "Venom" actress has had a handful of relationships since Jonze, including Jason Segel, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Phil Elverum. Thankfully, Williams has now found her match in Thomas Kail, the director of "Hamilton." The happy couple have been married since 2020 and have two children together.

Michelle Williams had to quit a movie that hit too close to home

Years ago, Bradley Rust Gray, a director and friend of Michelle Williams, was inspired by the actress' real-life tragedy. With the help of Williams, he wrote "Blood," a 2022 Sundance Film Festival winner, about a widow who is coping with her husband's death and decides to reconnect with an old friend, only to struggle with falling in love again. The "My Week with Marilyn" star was set to play the lead, but ultimately had to back out of the project.

As Gray said in a released statement (via Entertainment Weekly), "[Williams and I] both shared this weight of death, and the feeling that you always carry that weight when somebody close to you dies. 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."

Despite losing his lead actress, Gray says he's still grateful to Williams. Speaking with the Moveable Fest, he said, "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 ... in a way I think I wouldn't have developed this story [without her]." Although Williams certainly would have brought some traction to the film and could have tapped into her experience to deliver a phenomenal performance, the film was a success nonetheless.

She struggles to maintain a healthy work life balance

As a wife, a mother of three, and an incredibly successful Hollywood actress, Michelle Williams has a lot to juggle in her life. We all struggle with maintaining a healthy work life balance, and the "Blue Valentine" actress has admitted to being in the same boat. In a 2023 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Williams said, "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."

This was a concern for Williams even before she was tending to two small children, a teenager, and frequent movie scripts. Back in 2016, she told The Guardian about how difficult it was to spend time away from her daughter while filming. "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," she explained. This will likely always be a thought that haunts Williams, as it does many working parents. Thankfully, she now has her husband Thomas Kail's support as she continues to adapt and balance her work and family life.