Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman, at 36 and 35 years old, respectively, may have decades of experience as professional actors, but they don’t necessarily wish that was the case.
The two recently sat down with each other for Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series, where they discussed how they got their start in the industry as child actors, agreeing that it wasn’t the easiest path to success.
“It turned out all right. But it isn’t a life that I would want necessarily,” explained Williams, who was around the same age as Portman — 11 years old — when she started acting. “It was really hard when I started out, and the bottom of absolutely every barrel.”
“It’s a really long way, and not necessarily a very nice one. It’s a hard childhood to have — or lack of a childhood to have,” she continued. “I do love doing it, and I can’t really imagine doing anything else. I want to keep doing it, but when I see kids on the set, or when I work with kids in movies, I feel really torn about their role there.”
“Yes, and we end up doing that a lot, too — more than men — because so many female parts are moms,” Portman agreed. “I feel like I always work with a kid.”
“I feel an extra protectiveness and also a desire to be like, ‘So, do you have any other interests?’” Williams added.
Though they wish they had more of a normal childhood, neither Williams nor Portman regrets their choice to become actors at such a young age.
“I feel that there is something around that time where you do have an instinct about what you really love. I don’t know where it came from, because there’s no one in my family who was ever a performer,” Portman offered, explaining that her parents encouraged her to be a doctor or a lawyer. “My dad pulled me aside when I was 25 and was like, ‘I think it’s time for you to go to law school or grad school.’ Not that he was saying that acting was bad, but more that he was like, ‘I think you’ll be more fulfilled if you have something more — like a life of the mind.’”
“So it took me a while, coming from that background, to be like, ‘This is what I want, and this is what I love. I enjoy this,’” she continued, adding that while she loves acting, she feels “more fulfilled” when directing.
“I think it’s definitely motivated me to try other things, because I do find myself more fulfilled when I feel like I’m learning something from what I’m doing and pushing myself to new places,” she said.
Interestingly enough, Williams’ daughter, Matilda, is now 11 years old, the same age her mother was when she started in the industry. Williams has been raising Matilda alone since her father, Heath Ledger, died in 2008.
“In all honesty, for pretty much everything else, I feel like I’m a believer in not fighting circumstances, accepting where you are and where you’ve been. In pretty much all senses but one,” Williams told Porter magazine. “I would be able to go totally down that line of thinking were it not for Matilda not having her dad. You know, that’s just something that doesn’t… I mean, it just won’t ever be right.”
See more in the video below.