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Michelle Williams' career spans 'Creek' and 'Mountain'

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NEW YORK - Michelle Williams is feeling renewed - and exhausted.

After several indie films and edgy Off-Broadway plays, the 25-year-old actress can be seen in "Brokeback Mountain." In the film, which was directed by Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, Williams plays Alma, a young Wyoming housewife in the 1960s who discovers that her cowboy husband (Heath Ledger) is in love with his fellow ranch hand (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The buzzed-about drama is a creative high for the former "Dawson's Creek" actress. But since the birth Oct. 28 of her and Ledger's daughter, Matilda, Williams is drawing on reserves of energy she never knew she had.

"I'm getting very little sleep," she says with a smile. "But the difference between the day before I gave birth and the day after is like the old me and the new me.

"I knew having a baby would work some magic on me. ... I feel different in my body, and in my mind. And I don't think work will be like therapy anymore - my acting will be more about my characters and less about me."

Raised in Montana before moving to California as a preteen, Williams was cast at 16 as bad girl Jen on "Creek," but was ill-prepared for the audience's reaction.

"The response to Jen hurt my feelings," she says. "I was a kid, and I thought there was something wrong with me as a person - like I wasn't pretty or talented enough to be the chosen one. I thought it was me, not the role. Now I realize I was lucky to not be the focal point. I never had to think, `I won't be able break out of this character.'"

She did the requisite teen-scream turn (1998's "Halloween H20"), then dove into lauded turns in comedies ("Dick," "But I'm a Cheerleader") and dramas ("Me Without You," "The United States of Leland"). In 2003 Williams added sex appeal to "The Station Agent," and this year was a sweetie-pie nerd in "The Baxter."

But her willingness to tackle tough roles - as in the Off-Broadway play "Killer Joe," which required a raw, lengthy nude scene - led her to a realization: People thought there were "Michelle Williams-types of parts."

"Offers started trickling in that were similar to `Killer Joe,' these twisted, abused roles spiced up with a bit of nudity," she says wryly. "I realized I was maybe getting stuck! I had to turn those down."

So when "Brokeback" came around, based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx, Williams jumped at the chance to play Alma.

"I felt the role in an in-my-bones kind of way," she says. "This is the stock I come from."

"Michelle picked up on every beat in the story," says Diana Ossana, who co-wrote the screenplay with Larry McMurtry. "She's from Montana, she has that background; there are things she grasps intuitively. The phrase `still waters run deep' completely applies to her."

Williams met Ledger, 26, while filming "Brokeback" in Alberta, Canada (they now live in Brooklyn and reportedly are engaged), and says it was intoxicating to see him create the role that has earned the Aussie actor raves.

"It's sexy watching somebody do what they love," she says. "After seeing his performance in the film, I'd take any acting advice he gives."


(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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