As semi-reformed bad girl Jennifer Lindley on Dawson's Creek, actress Michelle Williams garnered a certain type of notoriety unavailable to her more morality-inclined co-stars. In spite of this notoriety--or perhaps because of it--the role provided Williams with a wealth of opportunities, making her one of the foremost teen stars of the late 1990s.
Born September 9, 1980 in small-town Kalispell, Montana and raised there until she was ten, Williams started acting after her family moved to San Diego. Beginning with roles in community theatre productions, she was soon shuttling back and forth to Los Angeles for auditions. Williams made her film debut in 1994 with Lassie, and then had a small but memorable part as the young version of the nubile and bloodthirsty alien in Species (1995). After the dismal and virtually unseen Timemaster (1995), Williams moved on to more auspicious fare with Jocelyn Moorhouse's A Thousand Acres (1997). Williams was cast as Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter, and the film's small-town setting must have given her some context for her next role, that of Jenn in Dawson's Creek. The show, which premiered in January of 1998, gave Williams her break-out role, and in short time she was besieged with movie offers and a stream of interviews.
Williams' first film to exploit her newfound Dawson's fame was Halloween: H2O (1998), in which she starred opposite Jamie Lee Curtis. The film opened to poor reviews but a strong box office performance, and paved the way for her to star in future films, including 1999's thoroughly weird political satire Dick. The film, which looks at the Watergate scandal from the point of view of two teenage girls (played by Williams and Kirsten Dunst), provided Williams with a chance to expand her range beyond the constraints of her Dawson's Creek character. As the new millennium began, Williams found herself more and more comfortable exploring independent film, participating in smaller but often extremely influential projects like Perfume (2001), The Station Agent (2003) and Prozac Nation (2003).
In 2005, Williams signed on to appear in the groundbreaking Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain. The critical acclaim surrounding the movie was overwhelming, bringing Williams a new level of notoriety. Her popularity was also bolstered when the public learned that she and costar Heath Ledger had become involved during filming. The two became engaged and had a daughter together, Matilda, in 2005, and though they would later separate in 2007, they remained close for the well being of their daughter. Tragically, Ledger was found dead of an accidental overdose the following year. The heartbreaking loss for both Williams and her daughter forced the actress to deal with additional public scrutiny at a time when she was most vulnerable, but she coped with the grief as best she could, by investing more energy in her work. In 2008 alone she would appear in numerous films, including the drama Incendiary with Ewan McGregor and the highly anticipated Charlie Kaufman directorial debut Synecdoche, New York.
Williams persisted in working with very good directors, as well as indie helmers who could offer her challenging work. She earned strong reviews for her starring role in Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, and they worked together again on the western Meek's Cutoff. In addition, she worked with Martin Scorsese in his adaptation of Shutter Island.
She also continued to earn awards for a steady string of impressive work including Blue Valentine, where her work as the female half of a failing marriage scored her Oscar, Golden Globe, and Independent Spirit nominations for Best Actress. Then in 2011 she took on the challenge of playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, and was rewarded with rave reviews as well as Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Best Actress.