Michelle Williams has told the Cannes Film Festival that being a mother affects “every choice” she makes.
“It’s really at the centre of everything I do,” she told a press conference for her film Wonderstruck.
She plays a mother in Wonderstruck, by Carol director Todd Haynes, and she and co-star Julianne Moore were also full of praise for its young cast.
Part of the film, which had its first screening at Cannes on Thursday, is a black and white silent movie.
Wonderstruck has dual narratives, set in 1927 and 1977, telling the stories of a young deaf girl, Rose, and Ben, a 12-year-old living 50 years later, and how their lives connect in ways that only become clear at the end.
‘No area untouched’
Williams related the Mother’s Day card message she received from daughter Matilda, saying it speaks to what she tries to achieve as a parent.
The card read: “Mom, thanks for letting me be me” and featured a picture of someone with high heels on a skateboard.
The actress said she had the same attitude towards the actors at the centre of Wonderstruck, saying: “What I find most interesting about motherhood in this film is being responsive to the child, to the child you’re parenting personally and professionally.”
Williams, who was nominated for an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, said: “There is no area of my life it leaves untouched. Every choice I make in the films I do, every choice I make about what we have for breakfast in the morning – but I think it’s what becoming a parent does to you.”
Millicent Simmonds stars as Rose. It is her first film, with Haynes having sought to fill the role from the deaf community.
“We wanted somebody fantastic, but we wanted to start the search within the deaf community and really search far and wife to find the best person,” he said. “It was incredibly good fortune to find this girl. There was something about her as a person that shone through.”
Simmonds said she had to get up early every morning to work on the script – often reading ahead as she was enjoying it so much.
“I never dreamed my life would come here to this,” she said to an at-times emotionally charged press conference. Haynes also appeared to have a tear in his eye.
Jaden Michael, who plays Ben’s friend, added it had been a great honour to be in the film.
Williams said: “I’m just listening right now – which is actually what it’s like working with kids. I love working with kids and for kids. I remember being that age, when you’re so porous you just absorb on so many levels.”
Moore said she treated Simmonds, along with Oakes Fegley – who plays Ben – and Michael as if they were adults.
“An actor is an actor, despite their age or experience,” she said. “When you meet an actor on set you’re meeting a peer. Everything dissolves – the way you categorise each other according to age, gender and colour completely disappears and you meet people on a personal level.”
She called the three young stars “extraordinary” and also said she had jumped at the chance to work with “genius” Haynes again.
Moore’s character hardly utters a word in the film, and she learned sign language for it, a process she said was “incredible”.
“You’re always, as a human being, looking for a way to connect, be it verbally, physically or with sign,” she said.
Moore added it was her “first experience with deaf culture”, and that this had been a “great gift”.
Michael said he hoped children would want to learn sign language after seeing the film, and also “go out and build forts and play Lego instead of playing Call of Duty” – as the 70s child he plays loves exploring the Natural History Museum in New York with his friend.
Wonderstruck, based on an illustrated children’s novel, has already been tipped for awards season success, with early reviews deeming it an early Cannes favourite.
But Variety, although lauding its “aura of unusual innocence”, complained that the film, to be released later this year, “winds up being less than the sum of its parts”.
It is in contention for the Palme d’Or at the festival in the south of France.