The actress Olivia Williams may buy the costumes from her films, but she insists on sensible shoes
Olivia Haigh Williams studied English at Cambridge, then drama at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Now 39, she has toured with the RSC, was the lead in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998) and starred as Bruce Willis’s wife in the 1999 blockbuster The Sixth Sense. Since then she has appeared in several British films, including Lucky Break (2001) and The Heart of Me (2002), for which she won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress. Most recently, she was Dr Moira MacTaggart in the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand. She is married to the American stage actor and playwright Rhashan Stone, has two young daughters and lives in North London.
If your body is jammed into a corset for 16 hours a day, it does change shape. You start putting on weight around the edges – your shoulders get fatter – but you end up with a tiny waist. You are not necessarily thinner, it’s just that the fat has travelled elsewhere.
I don’t hate my body, because it functions amazingly and does all sorts of things – including making babies and doing yoga. My job requires me to be embarrassingly unselfconscious, so I just can’t hate my body. If I want it to look its best and not to frighten people, I don’t show my knees. If I had fabulous knees I’d wear skirts up to my a**e every day.
Looks matter a lot if you want to be the glamorous lead in Hollywood movies. It’s a huge thing if you walk into an audition room and the producers and director can see you being that character. When I go to an audition I think carefully about being a blank canvas onto which they can impose their preconceptions.
I first heard about the Power of Hands charity when I was working with its founder, the costume designer Andrea Galer, on the BBC television drama Miss Austen Regrets. I was admiring the beautiful lace that she used, and the story just spilt out of her. Sri Lankan women who all were horribly affected by the tsunami make the lace. The charity ensures that this skill, and these women, can survive. It offers fair trade and proper payment for their work.
Speaking to her triggered a series of conscience-stricken thoughts in me. Women and clothes are so profoundly related but, very often, the women who wear the clothes never really think of the women who made them.
I would love to say that I always wear elegant shoes, but I love my Dansko orthopaedic clogs. Antonio Banderas recommended them. He swears by them for improving your back. Unfortunately, my husband hates the clogs so much that he hides them from me.
Do I enjoy being made-up? It depends on who’s doing it. It can be a very pleasurable experience or it can be like going to the dentist. It’s a loss of control, and provokes a sense of panic. Imagine that for two hours every morning at 5am. It’s not like on your wedding day, when people make a fuss of you – you are merely a vehicle for them to work on.
The only film I worked on that has influenced passing fashion trends was Rushmore. The director, Wes Anderson, has the most amazing eye. The costumes I wore were not particularly extraordinary, but the look of the film meant that in its wake a slice of society dressed in the same way. It was a study of eccentricity that became cool.
More often than not, I buy the clothes at the end of a movie. It can actually be quite embarrassing because these pieces often become my favourite items. A year later, when I’m doing the press for the movie, I’ll put on my favourite jacket, then find myself sitting in front of a large screen that is showing extracts from the movie and I’ll be wearing the same clothes as my character. It looks as though I’ve come in costume.
There was a dreadful occasion at the RSC when I had to die of a broken heart at the end of play. The dress I was wearing was made of white silk and had hand-painted flowers sewn all over it. There was talk of me writhing around in a pool of blood, but the costume designer just said no. She said I had to die standing up. It was the most bizarre acting requirement. People said that it was an incredible way to die – so statuesque!