Having developed a strong friendship over the years, Michelle Williams and Kelly Reichardt no longer bother with formalities when a film project takes shape. If a role is destined for the one who, this year, was a finalist for the Oscars in the category of best actress thanks to her performance in The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg), the actress responds present without even knowing yet what it is. acts.

“Kelly just calls me, or sends me a text message telling me that she would like to talk to me about something”, explains Michelle Williams during an interview granted to La Presse by videoconference.

“It’s a very strong and moving feeling to see a filmmaker like Kelly want to work with you again. I will never forget the second time she called on me. No one else had done it before her! »

This complicity dates back to the days of Wendy and Lucy, winner in 2009 of the prize for best film awarded by the American Film Institute. Meek’s Cutoff and Certain Women followed. This time, the emblematic director from the city of Portland, Oregon, offers in Showing Up the story of Lizzy (Michelle Williams), a sculptor artist whose life, in addition to being chaotic on a personal level, is marked by the arrival of an injured bird which she takes care of. However, the latter manages to practice her art despite the precarious conditions in which she must evolve. Michelle Williams is notably surrounded by Hong Chau (also recently nominated for the Oscars thanks to her role in The Whale, by Darren Aronofsky) and André Benjamin.

“The big challenge in this project was to find the works that corresponded to the character and with which Michelle could work, indicates the filmmaker during this joint interview. It clicked when I came across the work of sculptor Lee Bontecou, ​​who has a certain physical resemblance to Michelle. As I know Michelle is always up for it, I sent her a large block of clay and some tools so that she could learn to work the material thanks to distance learning courses given to her by Cynthia Lahti, to whom we owe Lizzy’s sculptures in the film. »

At the heart of the screenplay, which Kelly Reichardt wrote with her faithful accomplice Jon Raymond, is also a story of friendship between two women exercising the same profession. The imbalance in this relationship, however, lies in the position of one in relation to the other, with Jo (Hong Chau) being the owner of the apartment for which Lizzy is struggling to pay her rent. The idea of ​​drawing inspiration from the life of the painter Emily Carr that the two screenwriters had at the start was also quickly dismissed when they realized to what extent the Canadian artist had an icon status in the north. from their border.

“We didn’t want to portray a well-known artist. It was important to me to show instead the problems faced daily by artists who find it difficult to make a living from their art, specifies the director, whose previous feature film is First Cow. This work is sometimes difficult, but it is essential to the lives of these people. I teach cinema and I often tell students how passionate you have to be to make art because the day-to-day work is not always easy. »

Understanding the state of mind of an artist creating works manually was for Michelle Williams the gateway to her character.

Launched last year at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was in the running for the Palme d’Or, Showing Up is the fourth part of a fruitful professional association between a director and an actress who share the same conception of cinema. Kelly Reichardt also confides that she is happy to always work with a deadline. “Otherwise, I would never stop working on my film! “, she says.

For Michelle Williams, a feature film is essentially a life experience during filming.

“For some reason, at this stage of my life, I never watch the movies I’m in. However, I still have the feeling of living something important with Kelly. »