Michelle Williams recalls the paparazzi attention she and daughter Matilda received after Heath Ledger's death: 'It cuts you off from living your life'
Michelle Williams was 25 when she became a mother, welcoming daughter Matilda in 2005 alongside her then-fiancé and Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger. Just over two years later, Ledger — with whom she was no longer romantically involved — died of an accidental overdose, the aftermath of which saw Williams and their toddler daughter being swarmed by paparazzi.
In a new interview with the Guardian, the 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 around the Brooklyn neighborhood she and Ledger once called home.
"That feeling of being watched goes very, very deep,” Williams, now 42, says, “because it cuts you off from living your life. And for a while it felt like such an impediment to being natural and unguarded that my daughter and I moved outside of the city.”
The Fabelmans star moved her daughter — whom she calls "the person I have spent my adult life with," and therefore, her best audience — to a farm in upstate New York.
"We lived in the country because I felt more capable of living an unobserved life there," the Montana native says. "The particles shift under observation. I certainly felt that when we were living in Brooklyn.”
Williams and her family have resettled in Brooklyn in recent years, however — though the actress acknowledges that she still feels conspicuous given her past experience with the paparazzi there.
“I feel strengthened and more capable, but I certainly have an awareness I wish I could shed, because it does change how you move through the world," she says.
Matilda is now 17, and Williams marvels at seeing the teen navigate a post-#MeToo world.
"I was raised in the '80s," says the Blue Valentine star, who has pushed for pay parity in Hollywood. "Selfhood wasn’t put into young women. And now it is. I get to see it in my own daughter and I can’t take my eyes off her. It is a glorious miracle to behold that I never thought I would witness in my lifetime.”
She continues, “I thought I would have to teach my daughter how to subvert herself and crawl underneath the system to keep herself safe. And, instead, the system has exploded and these young people act with compassion, integrity and righteousness.
“I have the chills talking about it," she adds. "These girls aren’t prey. These girls are already victorious. I love to sit back and watch them in the world and know that it is safer and more inclined in their direction than it was for me.”
Last year Williams revealed that actor Jeremy Strong was among the loved ones who moved into her Brooklyn home following Ledger's shocking death. She credits the Succession star with playing with her daughter and helping the child heal.
"Jeremy was serious enough to hold the weight of a child's broken heart and sensitive enough to understand how to approach her through play and games and silliness," Williams told Variety.
"[Matilda] didn't grow up with her father, but she grew up with her Jeremy and we were changed by his ability to play as though his life depended upon it, because hers did," she added.