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Michelle Williams on Acting and Imagination

“Using your imagination is always a fine thing for an actor to do.”
Michelle Williams

“Great acting comes from a well-developed imagination.”
Acting teacher Jason Bennett

Imagination is central to creative expression.

Psychologist Carl Jung talked about using imagination as a means to access our unconscious, one of the main sources of creative ideas and energies.

He developed the concept of Active Imagination as a “meditation technique wherein the contents of one’s unconscious are translated into images, narrative or personified as separate entities.

“It can serve as a bridge between the conscious ‘ego’ and the unconscious and includes working with dreams and the creative self via imagination or fantasy.”  [Wikipedia]

[Books by C. G. Jung: Jung on Active Imagination ; The Red Book.]

Jungian analyst Dr. Monika Wikman refers to the idea as “activated imagination field” and says “it’s informing everything all the time. And all creative process is deeply informed by the activated imaginal field. Think of Shakespeare and all these characters that get birth. He gives them a life…”

From Shrink Rap Radio # 286, Understanding Jungian Active Imagination, David Van Nuys, Ph.D., aka “Dr. Dave” interviews Dr. Monika Wikman, PhD.

Wikman is author of The Pregnant Darkness: Alchemy and the Rebirth of Consciousness.

Michelle Williams devoted some ten months to researching Marilyn Monroe for her acclaimed performance in “My Week With Marilyn.”

Producer Harvey Weinstein said he was impressed at the level of Williams’ preparation, how she could quote passages from Maurice Zolotow’s biography on Monroe.

“Michelle researches a role like no one I’ve ever encountered,” Weinstein wrote in an email. “She watched and studied the movies and photos; she read every book, every biography.… She could describe how Marilyn wiggled and winked while quoting some of her best lines, [like] when she teased that she was nude by saying, ‘I have nothing on but the radio.’” …

Williams probably also read: My Story, the autobiography by Marilyn Monroe.

She commented in an interview, “So I lived with her, and I never stopped trying to find more information. Even on set, on the 10-minute breaks, I would be back poring through photos or with my earphones in watching a movie. I was obsessed. I was on the trail of something. There were clues, and I had to solve a mystery.”

From my Inner Actor post Michelle Williams on Interpreting Marilyn Monroe.

An interest in research and reading early in life

Like a number of talented actors, Williams has a high ability intellect: she was in an Advanced Placement program in high school, and graduated early (at age 15). She also did independent study: “It was great, because I could work at my own pace, and it was completely uninterrupted, and I finished three years in eight months or something.”

Part of her interest in acting is from a love of literature, Williams notes: “For as long as I can remember, my father read voraciously to me when I was a kid. I grew up with William Faulkner and all these great, fabulous books, and I always wanted to be in those worlds.

“And daily, growing up, I lived in these fantasies of whatever it was, “Anna Karenina” or you name it, and I wanted to be there. So it was sort of a natural progression to want to become an actress, to live that out.”

Asked if she still finds time to read, she says “Oh yes. Whether it means I don’t get any sleep, it’s a huge part of my life. I think it’s really balancing. It’s been the most enlightening thing, and being read to as a child is the best thing that could happen to me.”

From our interview about her acting in “Halloween: H20” with Jamie Lee Curtis (1998).

That love of reading and research probably helps fuel her dynamic performances.

Responding to the creative challenges of the work

An interview article noted that some of her careful “research and rehearsal either went out the window or had to be hastily enriched while shooting three of the film’s key scenes. ‘Sometimes you have to fight the circumstances or re-create them in your head,’ [Williams] says. ‘Which is OK. Using your imagination is always a fine thing for an actor to do.'”

(Michelle Williams talks about her year with Marilyn, By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times)

To imagine is to create

In his article (on the site of his Actors Workshop) – “The Curious Imagination” – Jason Bennett says, “Great acting comes from a well-developed imagination. But many aspiring actors’ imaginations are undeveloped or blocked… Your imagination is the source of your creativity… Imagining is ‘the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the [external] senses or never before wholly perceived in [external] reality.’ To imagine is to create.”

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Michelle Williams on Acting and Imagination

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Michelle Williams on Acting and Imagination. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Feb 2012
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