Michelle Williams hasn’t seen The Fabelmans. But it’s nothing against the movie, which has put her in Oscar contention for her role as Mitzi Fabelman, a free-spirited mom inspired by director Steven Spielberg’s own mother. In fact, she hasn’t seen one of her own films since 2012, a Kelly Reichardt film about lost pioneers that co-starred Paul Dano, who plays her husband in The Fabelmans.
I’m not able to watch my own work,” she told The New York Times in a wide-ranging interview about her career from Dawson’s Creek to The Fabelmans. “I think the last thing I saw was Meek’s Cutoff in a theater with my daughter, so it’s been about a decade.”
Williams explained why she doesn’t watch her own films, but would someday like to be able to.
“When I’m working on something, I feel so completely inside of it, and when I switch to an audience member, it alters my experience — and the experience is ultimately what I’m in it for. I can’t seem to go back and forth between the two ways to be involved in storytelling, even though I would like to be strong enough and capable of watching myself, figuring out what I would like to technically adjust and then applying it to the next time,” she said.
“I’ve tried to do that, but I’m getting internal bounce-back. I’m happier and maybe healthier just staying in my personal experience of playing these women.”
Williams takes her roles that seriously: She notes in the Times interview that on the last day of shooting The Fabelmans, “I grieved like somebody had actually died.”
Dano felt a similarly deep connection to his character, telling MovieMaker that when he was on set, playing a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s father, the director’s sisters would call him “dad.”
“It felt like a heavy cloak to bear in some ways because Steven’s relationship with his father had some ups and downs. So I feel like I have to let Burt lead the way when I’m at work,” Dano said. “It’s a trip to be sort of living that out. And, you know, Steven’s sisters would come to set and they would sometimes call me ‘dad,’ and it was just wild. It was moving.”
He added: “It was a very intimate, emotional experience. It was not like any other film I’ve made. It was really a singular experience, and especially to have that experience with someone like Steven, it’s hard to quantify, frankly.”
The Fabelmans is now in theaters and available on video on demand.
Main image: Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans