Michelle Williams was 25 when she became a mother and welcomed daughter Matilda in 2005 alongside her then fiancé and Brokeback Mountain opponent Heath Ledger. Just over two years later, Ledger — with whom she was no longer romantically involved — died of an accidental overdose, after which Williams and their toddler daughter were swarmed by paparazzi.
In a new interview with the Guardianthe Oscar-nominated actress — now married to director Thomas Kail, with whom she shares 2-year-old son Hart and a newborn baby boy — opens up about trying to pick up the pieces while being followed by cameras in the Brooklyn neighborhood where she and Ledger called home once.
“That feeling of being watched goes very, very deep,” says Williams, now 42, “because it cuts you off from living your life. And for a while it felt like such a hindrance to being natural and unguarded that my daughter and I moved out of town.”
The Fablemans star moved her daughter — whom she calls “the person I’ve spent my adult life with,” and thus her best audience — to a farm in upstate New York.
“We lived in the country because I felt more capable of living an unnoticed life there,” says the Montana native. “The particles shift under observation. I definitely felt that when we lived in Brooklyn.”
However, Williams and her family have settled in Brooklyn in recent years, though the actress acknowledges she still feels striking given her past experiences with the paparazzi there.
“I feel empowered and more capable, but I definitely have a realization that I wish I could get rid of it because it changes the way you move through the world,” she says.
Matilda is now 17 and Williams marvels at how the teen navigates a post-#MeToo world.
“I grew up in the ’80s,” says de Blue valentine star, who has pushed for wage equality in Hollywood. “Selfishness wasn’t put into young women. And now it is. I see it in my own daughter and I can’t take my eyes off her. It’s a glorious miracle to behold that I never thought I’d witness of would be in my life.”
She continues, “I thought I should teach my daughter how to undermine herself and get under the system to keep herself safe. And instead, the system has exploded and these young people are acting with compassion, integrity and righteousness.
“It gives me chills when I talk about it,” she adds. “These girls are not prey. These girls have already won. I like to sit back and watch them in the world and know it’s safer and more inclined in their direction than it is for me.
Last year, Williams revealed that actor Jeremy Strong was among the loved ones who moved into her home in Brooklyn after Ledger’s shocking death. She credits the Succession star playing with her daughter and helping the child heal.
“Jeremy was serious enough to bear the weight of a child’s broken heart and sensitive enough to understand how to approach her through play and games and silliness,” Williams said. Variety.
“[Matilda] didn’t grow up with her dad but she grew up with her Jeremy and we were changed by his ability to play like his life depended on it because hers did,” she added.