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NEW YORK -- From looking at her svelte, lithe frame clad in black leggings and a cardigan over a white tank top, you'd never know Michelle Williams gave birth to Matilda Rose seven weeks earlier. She looks dewy-fresh and tranquil as she sits on the floor of a midtown hotel suite.
As with her critically lauded movie Brokeback Mountain, appearances can be deceiving. "I'm so tired," Williams says in her soft voice. "I feel ridiculous, all this hair and makeup. I just want to go home and go to bed and give her a bath."
Instead, she's talking up her Golden Globe-nominated performance in that "gay cowboy" movie that has been the talk of Hollywood since it took best-picture honors at the 2005 Venice Film Festival. Williams plays Alma, the quietly seething wife of sheepherder Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) who discovers that her husband is gay and having a relationship with his buddy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Williams says she related to having "the rug of love pulled out from under your feet."
This time, life did not mimic art. Williams, 25, and Ledger, 26, fell in love while shooting the film and now live with Matilda in Brooklyn. "I'd been living there for a while, but Heath fell for it as soon as he spent time there," says Williams, who sports an engagement ring from her fiance.
Until a New York newspaper recently ran a story identifying the couple's street, the two had largely been left alone. "We had lived in blissful anonymity," Williams says. "Then the story came out, and there were photographers around the next day. I'm deeply shy, and I don't like anybody looking at me."
She had better get used to it, even though Williams swears she's not paying attention to Brokeback's Oscar talk. "I have a new baby. I don't know what tops that."
Ledger relished his on- and off-screen collaboration with Williams. "Obviously, I fell in love with her," he says. "And as an actor, she has incredible ability to control an enormous amount of emotion and depth within her soul and convey it in a very subtle sense, in a very mature manner."
Williams, meanwhile, has difficulty discussing her fiance's turn as Ennis, a gruff man who is afraid to be himself. "I can only espouse cliches when I talk about it," she says. "I know that man. And I didn't see him up anywhere on that screen."
Her favorite memory? Meeting Ledger. "I hate to be so obvious. It's a sweet thing. It's going to be a sweet document for (Matilda), too, when she's older, of how her parents met."
Sparks flew during pre-production, says director Ang Lee, who calls Williams "a good Montana girl."
The relationship, Lee says, is "really good for Heath. The character is very intense and has a lot of self-loathing, a lot of vulnerability, and the nourishment of the love affair and happiness kept him grounded. Did it distract him from playing a gay cowboy? I think it's just the opposite, because he's so secure and happy that he really focused on his work."
Williams tries to keep the details of their relationship and day-to-day life under wraps. But it's difficult because "we have a personal life that's attached to the work. I try not to give too much away."
Williams and Ledger don't have a nanny, and they share baby duties. Family members baby-sit when the two have to go out. "We really wanted to do everything ourselves, especially for this immediate time together," Williams says.
The couple will spend Christmas in Montana with Williams' family before traveling to Ledger's native Australia to see his clan.
For Williams, life has become "a cycle of eating, washing, sleeping, cleaning. Now, for fun, I nap."
Daughter Matilda Rose is "willful, like the both of us," Williams says. Her name "entered our heads, really. Just popped into my head."
The parents have not released pictures of the baby. "When we go back to Australia, (photographers are) pretty relentless, and it used to scare me and upset me," Williams says. "I have to try not to get too anxious, because anything I feel gets channeled straight to her."
She's also not eager to talk about Dawson's Creek, the WB series in which Williams starred as sexy teen Jen Lindley. "When I do reflect on it, it's fondly," she says. "It's just not often."
Williams won't say whether she has talked to Tom Cruise's pregnant fiancee and her former Dawson's co-star, Katie Holmes.
"That's the million-dollar question," Williams says. "Everybody wants to ask it. I feel like I'm turning into a party trick."
She'd rather focus on the juiciest role of her life: "Matilda's mom. I love being a young parent. It's me, the baby and the breast pump."
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