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 Stars, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, The Sixth Sense, An Education, Rushmore, 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!