Sam Rockwell may be at his best as the well-known choreographer Bob Fosse, but the role of Gwen Verdon is equally fascinating. Much of the credit for its success goes to Michelle Williams; the actress already came to the project with a long list of critically acclaimed performances and a reputation for bringing new life to characters. It was only a matter of time before a project like this would find her.
To assume the role of Gwen Verdon, Williams had to address everything from the tumultuous relationship behind the story to hew own appearance. It was a far-reaching process that would manifest itself in some of her past experiences, namely in the dance and theater community. “I sort of feel like I’ve been training for Gwen my whole life. I learned how to tap dance when I was a kid, and then when I was in Episode 7 playing the MC and tap dancing across the stage, I felt I remembered things from being a 10-year-old girl,” Williams told IndieWire.
A New Face and an Old Face
It went further than just her dance training in preparation for the role. The project’s makeup maven, Debbie Zoeller, spoke about the various aspects needed to show the character at various ages. In an interview with Refinery29, she was specific about how the details made the difference for Williams and her co-star Rockwell. “We had to make both Sam and Michelle look younger, so we’d use these cosmetic lifts under their wigs to help,” Zoeller said. Williams would be especially interested in the aspects of how “aging” was showing through the character’s neck. “…Michelle really noticed was Gwen’s neck wattles. We made three different sizes of prosthetic wattles that would change as Michelle aged. At one point, we found out that Gwen had gotten a facelift, so we went back to a smaller wattle piece after that would’ve happened. It helped tell the story along the way,” Zoeller continued.
Williams acts in films, but she also has a fascination for theater; so much so that she has starred in Broadway shows and indulges in her love of them. Talking to Playbill, the actress recounted her excitement in meeting another broadway star. “When I had first met Lin[-Manuel Miranda]—I sat next to him at an awards thing—I screamed when I saw him, but I thought it was going to be my only chance to ever interact with him. I had to make sure that I came back with a lot of things for the children in my life,” she said while speaking about the creator of Broadway juggernaut Hamilton.
Fighting for Equal Pay
Equal pay is an issue that most women in Hollywood have dealt with at some time. For Williams, that came to light with her work on a 2017 film. FX confronted the issue and assured Williams she would have their full support; that meant having the same pay as Rockwell. They also were hands-on with helping her cover expenses related to getting ready for the big role. “People were treating me like I had value, and so then I felt value, and I displayed my value,” the actress said while speaking to Vulture