Michelle Williams will campaign as lead actress, not supporting, for ‘The Fabelmans’

Here are some photos of Michelle Williams at the Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF premiere of The Fabelmans. The Fabelmans is a barely-fictionalized account of Steven Spielberg’s childhood and family, and Michelle plays a version of Spielberg’s mother, who was musical, artistic and always encouraged him to follow his dreams of making movies. Michelle has spoken before about what an honor it was to be offered the role, to be directed by Spielberg as she played a version of his mother. Here’s the trailer for the movie:

It looks good and dare I say, very self-referential on Spielberg’s part. As in, he’s almost exclusively referencing his own oeuvre. Anyway, it’s clear that he still has a boyish idea of his parents as larger-than-life figures, and it’s also clear that Michelle is giving an awards-bait performance. The Fabelmans was produced under the Universal banner, and Universal was prepared to put a lot of money into Michelle’s Oscar campaign. But here’s the kicker: the studio wanted to submit Michelle for Best Supporting Actress. Now Michelle says that she’s submitting herself in the lead actress categories:

Not every race is what it seems, and so it goes with the first category decision of the season. Variety has confirmed Michelle Williams’ work as the piano-playing mother in Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” will be campaigned for the Oscars in best actress, instead of supporting as many pundits had speculated.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, won the prestigious People’s Choice Award and became the undisputed frontrunner in the early days of the awards season. One of the highlights of the cast was Williams’ turn as Mitzi Fabelman, a lover of the arts who serves as an inspiration for her filmmaking son Sammy (played by newcomer Gabrielle LaBelle).

The acclaim for the semi-autobiographical story of Spielberg’s childhood was palpable in Toronto, with many seeing Williams’ turn as a sure-fire ticket to her fifth career Oscar nomination, perhaps even a highly probable winner in supporting actress. The supporting actress field is now wide open for any of the cast from Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” such as Jessie Buckley or Claire Foy.

Can Williams top the two presumed actress frontrunners, Michelle Yeoh, from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” or Cate Blanchett from “Tar?”

It’s still up in the air whether Paul Dano, as Sammy’s father, will similarly campaign for leading attention. Co-star Judd Hirsch received the lion’s share of attention and could become the second-oldest performer ever nominated in supporting actor at 87.

[From Variety]

Usually, category fraud goes in the other direction – an actor will give a performance which is clearly more of a lead role, and they’ll put themselves up for supporting actor awards because they think it will be easier to win. A lot of cases of category fraud are not even the actors’ calls though, it’s the studios making decisions about what kind of campaign they will pay for and how the film is promoted. This specific case, with Michelle, reads to me like the studio was on the fence and they were prepared to finance her supporting-actress campaign, but Michelle saw the film, saw her screen time and decided “nope, I’m the lead.” It’s bold and it feels like she’s proudly gambling on herself. I’m proud of her for declaring herself the lead like that.

Photos courtesy of Cover Images.

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19 Responses to “Michelle Williams will campaign as lead actress, not supporting, for ‘The Fabelmans’”

  1. Digital Unicorn says:

    This looks interesting and yeah its an Oscar bait role – she’s ok as an actress but really don’t get the hype around her.

    Paul Dano is great in everything he’s in so I will look forward to his performance.

    • Mireille says:

      Rooting for Michelle Yeoh. I also find Michelle Williams to be rather bland in her acting style. No offense to her fans.

      And it doesn’t matter how many roles, acclaim, and accolades Paul Dano receives, he will NEVER top his performance as Dwayne Hoover to me. Carry on Dwayne…I hope you are finally flying those planes 🥹

      • Miss Owlsyn says:

        Oh my goodness yes, he was excellent in Little Miss Sunshine. Everyone was. But when Dwayne runs off and just screams and completely loses it? Such a great part of the film.

    • Not a subject says:

      The hype about Michelle Williams is justified IMO.

      Her movie with Sarah Polley “Take This Waltz” absolutely shooketh me. Like to the core & made me rethink a lot of things. That was down to the script but it bc was mainly down to Williams’ performance.

      I’m glad she’s banking on herself this way, though I think Viola may take this year. I’ve never seen a sci-fi win big (Michelle yeoh’s movie).

      • tealily says:

        I cannot stand her character in that movie, which I think is a testament to her acting ability because I actually like her. That movie was infuriating and good. And yes, if that movie doesn’t make someone want to grow the f- up, I don’t know what will!

  2. Loretta says:

    Good for her

  3. girl_ninja says:

    She IS the lead actress so this makes sense. I’m kinda tired of Paul Dano 🤷🏾‍♀️

  4. sunny says:

    This is a terrible idea. She is fantastic in the film(I saw it at TIFF last week) but her role is supporting in the sense that her work/role in the film is to support Sammy’s story and for whole stretches she isn’t in the movie. The film doesn’t revolve around her character no matter how influential she is on Sammy.

    Plus, Viola is terrific in the Woman King and will probably get a nod, and with EEAAO doing so well at the box office and Michelle Yeoh being amazing in the at film(and like in every scene) she will hopefully get her first nod. I have a film critic friend who raved about Tar and Cate Blanchett’s work there so that is another spot that might be gone. The competition in the category looks really competitive this year and it is a bold move to put a performance with much less screen time up versus the likely other nominees who carried their films. I mean, it worked for Kate Winslet in the Reader but she had the monster who will be named pushing her campaign and that was a way less competitive year(and I still think Meryl should have won for doubt or Anne for Rachel Getting Married).

    Great that she feels so wonderful about her work but this might really weaken her chances at even a nomination.

    • Normades says:

      I agree that it’s not a very strategic move. I haven’t seen the movie but I take your word for it that it’s a supporting role. Michelle has been nominated before so voters might think she is ‘due´ but not in a highly contested race where the other actresses are definitely the lead. Anyway I’m team Michelle (as in Michelle Yeoh).

      • sunny says:

        It’s such a subtle distinction in the way that she plays the most important female role in the film but that role is meant to be in service of a male protagonist’s story and the story isn’t driven by her character.

        And yes, Team Michelle Yeoh. She is so good in EEAAO. What a year for actress performances. I think maybe Michelle W thinks a slot might have opened in the category (lots expected Olivia Coleman to be nominated) with Empire of Light getting bad notices at the two festivals it screened at. If that is the case, I wouldn’t bet on that logic because the people i know who saw it, said Olivia Coleman is the only good thing about Empire of Light and that might be enough to get her another nomination bc the Academy loves her. Sigh. It is an interesting year.

  5. AmB says:

    I guess Hollywood people gotta do what they gotta do, Spielberg and Williams both. Bless their hearts, and their living, pulsing egos.

    (That trailer was my first video of the day and now *I* gotta go eat oatmeal to clear out the schmaltz.)

  6. Lady Baden-Baden says:

    I get that she’s trying to do the right thing and category fraud IS annoying… but I suspect she’s just talked herself out of an actual Best Supporting Actress oscar. The industry seems to like her and there’s been rumblings about it being “her time” coming out of Toronto – but the Best Actress race for next year is already looking stacked and I don’t think there’s a chance she’ll win against Blanchett or Yeoh, for example. She may even have screwed herself out of a nomination by insisting on the Best Actress category – I suppose it’ll depend how the film lands (I’ve seen some mixed reviews so far)

    • kimmy says:

      Yeah, but at the same time….it IS kind of bad @$$ that she is CHOOSING to gamble on herself here. Ever since that pay disparity stuff that came out, she has been very outspoken about how important it is for women to believe in themselves. This fits to me.

  7. Lens says:

    I don’t think it’s the right thing though. I go with my film Twitter friends who’ve seen it and say it’s definitely supporting and this is category fraud. So many female roles are supporting not leads so maybe it’s easier than if she was male to do this. Maybe because many supporting wins have gone to one-offs (too many to mention) in both male and female category so she feels it’s a downgrade? Anyway no to any kind of fraud. Decide according to screen time and who the protagonists are in the film. It’s not hard!

    • Miss Owlsyn says:

      But, is there another performance in the film that would fit as a Best Lead Actress? It sounds like she has the largest female role in the film.

  8. Silver Birch says:

    I wonder if Spielberg’s mother really had that haircut. Because Michelle Williams always seems to have either that style or a pixie cut. Very tiresome!

    • Mia4s says:

      In fairness? Yes! The documentary “Spielberg” that was out a few years ago had a lot of interviews/photos and she was blond short crop or pixie cut all the way from toddler Spielberg until her death a few years ago. So in this case Michelle is historically accurate. 😉

  9. Kirsty says:

    Is there a source confirming that Michelle pushed for this and not the studio? The Variety quote doesn’t seem to mention this, unless I’m missing something.

  10. Bisynaptic says:

    Steven Spielberg cast the most shiksa-looking woman to play his mother. Hmmmm…

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