Friday, June 18

Olivia Williams: ‘I’ve been close enough to stardom to see how horrible it is’ | TV

WThat he wouldn’t have given up being in a real room with Olivia Williams, instead of a Zoom. Despite her early ’90s RSC pedigree, she is forever the surprise find of The Postman, Rushmore, and The Sixth Sense, films in which her cast seemed so idiosyncratic.

How did this British actress, with her playful detachment and totally rosy, tan-resistant complexion end up in Hollywood? I always saw her as an ambassador for the nation, wandering around the end of the last century, giving the world the impression that we were all incredibly elegant and surprisingly tall. She, on the other hand, maintains that she only got those roles because they had blown her male lead’s budget and needed someone cheap. I’m afraid I won’t allow that. Surely it is false modesty? No, she’s pretty entrenched, all those movies, “they needed people to just get down to business. Because they didn’t have the budget or the time to worry about people who were overly concerned about vanity or the length of their trailer. “

However, he will admit there was something else: “He had a kind of theatrical audacity that I think was very useful to me. They were looking for someone in Sixth Sense who could take on Bruce Willis. They were looking for someone at The Postman who could take on Kevin Costner. For Rushmore, Hope Davies suddenly became unavailable, God bless her. I’m not proud, my father was a lawyer and he always said that his best cases were returns, those for which no one else was available.

'They needed people to just get down to business' ... with Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.
‘They needed people to just get down to business’ … with Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Photograph: Buena Vista / Allstar

We are here to talk about The Nevers. I can’t tell you much about Williams’ character due to the spoilers; Let’s just say it’s incredibly austere. The show has had an unstable entrance on the screens: sometime between conception and delivery, several actors from previous shows by its creator, Joss Whedon, accused it of creating a “toxic environment.” What was originally scheduled as a 12-episode first season of The Nevers has been turned into two six-episode mini-seasons, with Whedon replaced by Philippa Goslett as showrunner and executive producer of the second. Whedon cited the level of commitment required and the “physical challenges of putting on such a big show during a global pandemic,” saying it was “more than I can handle without the work starting to suffer.”

It has had mixed reviews. I thought it was wonderful: an intricately constructed universe of magnetic inventiveness, its tempo almost like a teenage drama, its incredibly dark and densely allegorical themes. I thought about it for days afterward. At one point, I became convinced that his premise – “shaken” people, primarily women, with strange, demonized, and feared abilities in Victorian London – was actually a metaphor for the pitfalls of progressive third-way politics. Williams really wasn’t having that. When you think a question is stupid, you nod and move on.

But she will tell me what attracted her to the role. “It was Joss calling me and saying, ‘I have a new job for you.’ Because the last time he did it, it was a fabulous role in Dollhouse. “Yes, about Joss Whedon …” I know I raised him, but I don’t want to press that, “he says. turn into something on Twitter. I don’t speak in 240 characters. Everything I say is 24,000 characters long. ” She is deeply suspicious of social media. “Very early, I read something racist about my oldest son on an IMDb message board. And I thought, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do that anymore.’ (He has two teenage daughters, Esme and Roxana, with the actor and writer Rhashan Stone.)

Incredibly austere… Williams at The Nevers.
Incredibly austere… Williams at The Nevers. Photograph: HBO / Warner Brothers

More than that though, Williams is extremely cautious when it comes to talking about what is currently the hot topic of acting: sexism, sexist pay scales, sexual harassment, sexist bullying, everything. She won’t come close to that (I get a lot of assertive nods), and it’s frustrating, as when she talks freely about politics or her industry, she does so with such candor and precision that you get a very strong sense of who she is. You could predict that he would be against Brexit, for example, but not the extent of his self-recrimination: “I can’t believe how negligent I was, all those years between the ages of 18 and 48, when Brexit came up, when I didn’t vote. by an MEP “, nor his anguish over the human consequences.” It makes me want to cry for Northern Ireland. I was there doing a radio play recently and it seemed such a transformed place, so hopeful and so positive, with the possibility of being the great city it should be, and it just got cut at the knee. “

It also has a strong critique of its industry, but it is quite adapted. “What is hurting are business issues. The director loves you, the casting director loves you, the producers love you. And then the deal shifts from your agent to business matters, and a little jerk just out of law school says, ‘What have you been up to?’ They will say anything, no matter how offensive it is. ‘Well, he doesn’t look so good … well, he had cancer.’

In 2018, Williams was diagnosed with a very rare pancreatic cancer, the identification of which had taken four years of miserable poor health. She wrote about it at the time, and concluded with sad wit: “Shortly after my six months green light, I was asked to be an ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK. I … pointed out that he wasn’t famous enough to raise a lot of money. They replied that they did not ask me why I was famous. They asked me because there are so few survivors. ”

Gala ... in the Nevers.
Gala … in the Nevers. Photography: Album / Alamy

She talks about it very forcefully now, but she has left her scars. “I don’t have a spleen. So we left London before closing and stayed outside London during both closings. I had a good war with my lovely family in a small place away from infection. “

Between those early film performances and his recent television work (before The Nevers, he was on the American sci-fi thriller Counterpart for two years), Williams made a series of British films that we might call classic but understated: An Education ( 2009), based on the brilliant memoirs of Lynn Barber; The heart of me (2002), adapted from a novel by Rosamund Lehmann; The Ghost Writer (2010), the thinly veiled takedown of Cherie Blair by Robert Harris (Williams played Ruth Lang, who is the Cherie in my very personal portrayal). She resolutely states that there has never been any plan; he has always simply accepted what was offered to him. However, he has a visceral aversion to stardom. “I’ve been close enough to see how scary it is. It’s kind of like a dream. “

She describes shooting in Rome with Antonio Banderas, trying to persuade him to go to a gallery, which she said was simply impossible. So they went to lunch in a tiny place. “When we sat down, it was just us, and within an hour he had to be escorted by security with his head on a blanket. And I thought, ‘How miserable is that?’ If you love acting, is celebrity necessarily part of acting? “Surely on some level he prioritized privacy over blockbusters?” No, absolutely not, “he says firmly.” If the money or the location or the protagonist had been right, I would have abandoned my privacy and taken the job. “.

If there was a common thread in both your career and your conversation, you may always be drawn to the subtle and complex, and slightly repelled by the obvious and flashy. “There was a wonderful theater teacher [at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school], that he was old enough to be a Prussian. My favorite admonition was: ‘Ducky, your subtext is displayed.’ In the age of therapy, the subtext becomes text, but I think it’s much more interesting to keep the subtext. “

Despite her fierce denial of ever having a plan, she has “navigated the path through, past the Scylla and Charybdis of not working at all or a celebrity preventing you from going about your business undisturbed. . I don’t know how that happened and I made a living at the same time. So I feel really blessed by that. “Maybe more the point:” Between the action and the cut, between the curtain up and the curtain down, I’m as happy as I can be. “

The Nevers is on Sky Atlantic and now on May 17th.

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