Wednesday, May 22, 2013


In a profession boasting an unemployment rate hovering somewhere around 85%, one can hardly call an actress as consistently employed as Olivia Williams an underutilized talent in the literal sense. On the contrary, while continuing to work extensively in both theater and television, Ms. Williams has appeared in major and independent films every year since first coming to the attention of U.S. audiences in Kevin Costner’s epic flop, The Postman in 1997.

It’s just that (in my not-so-humble opinion) Olivia Williams, in proportion to her talent, beauty, and versatility, deserves to be a bigger star than she is. Whether in roles comedic, Lucky Break – 2001; maternal, Peter Pan – 2003; earthy, Flashbacks of a Fool – 2008; sensitive, Rushmore – 1998, insightful, An Education – 2009, or (my personal favorite) vitriolic, The Ghost Writer – 2010; Williams has amassed an impressive catalog of unflaggingly impeccable screen performances. Performances that have rightfully granted her a reputation as an accomplished supporting actress capable of enlivening even the most prosaic of projects, but also performances that, by rights, should have made her into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies.
Traditionally, America has never really quite known what to do with British actresses, their alienating accents allocating them to roles of teachers, nannies, historical heroines, authority figures, or Joan Colins-esque divas. Too often, unless a British actress is capable of adopting an American accent for high-profile roles (a la, Kate Winslet, and indeed as Williams did in both The Postman and The Sixth Sense), she finds her fate to be something akin to that of Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith: significant Stateside success reserved for middle age and beyond.

A member of The Royal Shakespeare Company, Olivia Williams has shined in many prominent roles, winning a British Independent Film Award for The Heart of Me (2002) and being named Best Supporting Actress by the National Society of Film Critics and the London Critics Circle for The Ghost Writer. Yet, owing in large part to her posh speaking voice, short-sighted casting directors have failed to make use of William’s intelligent, Julie Christie-like sensuality and drop-dead sexuality (so often hidden behind desks and corseted in period clothing, few seem aware that Olivia Williams has a killer body).
 I’m no doubt making a plea for a brand of stardom and recognition the actress is probably not in the least bit interested, but when I read how she’s completed work on a forthcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger action film (Ten - 2014) or has lent her smooth, sonorous voice to the animated, Justin and the Knights of Valor (2013), my mind can’t help but go to the analogy of using a thoroughbred racehorse to pull a milk cart.

Recommended for Olivia Williams fans: The Sixth Sense (1999), Anna Karenina (2012), Hanna (2011), Hyde Park on Hudson (2012), Seasons 1 & 2 of Dollhouse on DVD.

The versatile and award-winning co-star of Maps to the StarsRoman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, The Sixth Sense, An EducationRushmore, Anna Karenina, and many others, is the topic of my Moviepilot article - Underutilized Natural Resource: Olivia Williams. Click on the title to read my tribute to one of the best  actresses to come out of Great Britain since Julie Christie!


Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. She is great, with a strong body of work in film, TV and theatre.

    1. Pleased to hear you like her, too! She's so consistently good.

  2. Argyle, here. Yes! She's great! I instantly liked her in "Rushmore." After thinking about it, she was the note of reality without bringing the whole thing down. Need to see "The Ghost Writer" and "Anna K." Thanks, Ken. You should run a studio!! Was she the teacher in "An Education"? That film had a great cast all around and a "Darling" vibe. And just to free-associate: Tracey Ullman in "Plenty" and Charlotte Rampling in "Never Let Me Go."

    1. Hi Argyle!
      I agree. Williams' naturalness (even in staid period films) always comes through and creates a dimensional,authentic person out of a character who often doesn't have much screen time.
      And if you like her at all, you'll love her in "The Ghost Writer."And yes, she was indeed the teacher in "An Education." I hadn't thought about it, but your "Darling" comment (which is very apt) reminded me of a quality that film had that was very reminiscent of the films coming out of the UK in the 60s (like Rita Tushingham's "The Girl with Green Eyes").
      I haven't seen or thought of the film "Plenty" in years! I remember liking it and owe it a revisit. And I have never seen "Never Let Me Go" but love Charlotte Rampling...should give it a look.
      Oh, and as for running a studio., my odd tastes are so out of step with what the public is buying, I'd bankrupt it within a month! :-)

  3. Ken, I finally had the chance to see "Ghost Writer" a couple of weeks ago. Ahhhh, Polanski! Strangely, I didn't recognize Olivia Williams as the actress from "The Sixth Sense" and "Rushmore." She was wonderful in "Ghost Writer" but when I read Tilda Swinton (of whom I am a great fan) had originally been cast in her role I couldn't help but think how interesting THAT might've been.

    1. Hi Eve
      I'm a huge fan of Swinton as well and there's no denying that she would have been killer in the role. As with your post about "Rosemary's Baby" and Polanski's original desire for Tuesday Weld and Robert Redford, you almost wish Polanski could pull a stunt like Woody Allen did with "September": film the exact same movie twice with different casts.