Michelle Williams On 'After The Wedding,' And The 'All The Money' Controversy In After the Wedding, she plays the head of an orphanage who is clearly uncomfortable around wealth. In her own life, she's dealt with a controversy where she was paid much less than a male co-star.
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Michelle Williams On Economic Inequality In Her New Movie — And Her Career

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Michelle Williams On Economic Inequality In Her New Movie — And Her Career

Michelle Williams On Economic Inequality In Her New Movie — And Her Career

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

"After The Wedding" is a movie full of transformative secrets. It's a remake of a 2006 film. And when we first meet the main character, Isabel played by Michelle Williams, she's living a modest humble life running an orphanage in India. Then one day she's asked to go to New York City to clinch a deal for a life-changing donation for the orphanage. The money would come from a media mogul, Theresa Young, played by Julianne Moore. That transaction lands Isabel in a world of wealth and power tied too closely to her past when she was a very different person.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS: I thought of her as somebody who used to burn very hot and whose fire had to be extinguished. And that only a place like India with all of its sights and smells and sounds can calm a person like this.

PFEIFFER: I spoke with Michelle Williams about her role in "After The Wedding" and what it was like filming part of that movie in India.

WILLIAMS: It's a place that I've been drawn to for its religious heritage, its fervor, the way that it kind of overwhelms your senses. But what was most unusual about it was shooting in a third world country. I don't think that I've ever shot a film in those circumstances. And the sentiment that I was left with when we departed India was it's such a luxury to have problems. And it was one of the things that I wanted to address in making this film was to play somebody whose tolerance for petty grievances or opulent displays of wealth was shattered because of the life she had lived for the last two decades.

PFEIFFER: Well, that's - I'm glad you brought that up because there's a clear sense from your character that when she lands in New York City and is parachuted into this world of wealth and luxury, put in a penthouse in Manhattan and given an on-call driver that she's very uncomfortable with that. Were you hoping that when people watching the movie saw your character react to this wealth and this luxury they would see that wealth and luxury through different eyes?

WILLIAMS: Well, what my character is - finds herself in is a situation where, with a woman who thinks that there is a price on people and that what she's offering will appeal to my character - that isn't it what everybody wants - money and power? And what my character is saying by resisting the offer is that more than anything she wants freedom and autonomy and to live a life of her own making. But the ultimate question comes towards the end when what she's made to realize is that this money that's being dangled in front of her will affect other people's lives.

PFEIFFER: So much of this movie deals with wealth and I have a question for you about how wealth has affected you in terms of your personal and professional life. And I don't even know if you like talking about this, but last year you were sort of accidentally thrown in the spotlight over the issue of pay inequality. This came after reports that your co-star Mark Wahlberg in "All The Money In The World" had been paid significantly more than you to reshoot some scenes. Now that time has passed and you can look at that in the rearview mirror, how do you think that affected you and your relationship with this industry?

WILLIAMS: Oh, no. I love to talk about it. The only thing I'd rather talk about is my child but not in this situation. But it is a sort of private humiliation that became the greatest public platform of my life, much more so than talking about my film or stage work. Because as I said in a speech on Capitol Hill, if it's like this for me, how bad is it for other women? And I have started to see a shift certainly in the way that people treat me and from what I hear from women coming up to me that my example has been really useful for them.

PFEIFFER: Has that experience changed the way you pick roles or who you want to work with or even the kind of negotiating you do for roles?

WILLIAMS: It has changed the way that I try and think about money because it's tied into our self-worth, and I didn't really think to ask for it because I didn't think to value myself in that kind of a way. And when I started to think about what would I use money for if I had it and I started to think about freedom of choice or freedom of time, then I started to be able to open myself up to the idea that I could put a value on myself and ask for it in my workplace.

PFEIFFER: I'm also wondering how you've transferred these lessons to your daughter because on one hand you have the challenge of you have a daughter who's the child of an actor, yet you have the opportunity for her to learn from what you experienced. Have you thought about how you convey that to her?

WILLIAMS: Well, what's so great about single parenting is that you live in extreme intimacy with each other. So everything that I go through she's very well aware of it and for the better, really. So she was along for the ride of all of this in the last couple of years in terms of this issue of fair pay. So she's seen me struggle and then she's seen this almost fairytale happy ending which is the job that I most recently finished, a TV series called "Fosse/Verdon." I was paid the same as my male co-star.

PFEIFFER: Sam Rockwell - is that right?

WILLIAMS: That's right. And unfortunately, that's really the only way to move forward is that it has to start at the top. And that's what I experienced when I did this TV show with FX was they wanted to make the workplace fair. They wanted me to feel valued. So what it means when we talk about supporting women, it doesn't just mean holding our hands. It means supporting us economically.

PFEIFFER: As you think over the course of your acting career, do you feel like roles available for women are improving, worsening, staying the same as they ever were?

WILLIAMS: Well, I can say for me personally my opportunities have gotten better and better. I'm more and more excited about the kind of work that I'm allowed to do. And that periods where I'm not working or not getting the kind of parts that I want to play, I can work on myself in those times, I can fill myself up in other ways so that I'm ready and prepared when the rule that I've been dreaming of does come my way.

PFEIFFER: Michelle Williams stars in the new movie "After The Wedding." Michelle, thank you for talking about all of this.

WILLIAMS: Pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK SINATRA SONG, “CYCLES”)

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