In “The Fabelmans,” Michelle Williams plays a version of director Steven Spielberg’s Jewish mom. It’s one of the more intimately Jewish roles we’ve seen this year, with Williams using tapes of the director’s mother — kosher restauranteur Leah Adler, who died in 2017 — to prepare for the part and channel her voice and demeanor.
There’s a lot of talk about authentic Jewish casting — from Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose as Leonard Bernstein in “The Maestro” to the casting of Kathryn Hahn in a now-cancelled project Joan Rivers project — but for director Stephen Spielberg, there were no questions about casting Williams, who isn’t Jewish, in the role. “She felt more like my mom than anyone I could have imagined,” he said, “and that’s the only consideration in a story more personal to me than any story I’ve ever brought to the movies.”
And while Williams isn’t Jewish, she recently revealed that she is planning to raise her children with their father’s Jewish faith.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Williams, 42, opened up about wanting to go to synagogue with her two younger children and studying up on Judaism.
Williams said she first felt an affinity for Judaism growing up in San Diego and spending time with her Jewish neighbors: “I adored being in their homes — a lot of it is those early memories of the discourse at the tables and the deep sense of belonging that tradition fosters.”
She says that Judaism “has always been something that I’ve gravitated towards, something that felt immediately exciting and deep and very different from the tinsel and cheer.”
Williams added that she still plans to raise her children with the holiday traditions she grew up with — “I say this as somebody who also sings Christmas songs to my kid before he goes to bed. I love both.”
Williams plans to study up on Judaism for her children. “I can’t teach it to them unless I learn it first,” Williams explained. But she says she’s already picked a synagogue for her family.
Williams met her husband, Thomas Kail, in 2018, when he directed her in the FX limited series “Fosse/Verdon.” It was her daughter Matilda, 17, who allegedly played matchmaker between the two.
Kail grew up Jewish in Alexandria, Virginia — his father, Floyd, is a lawyer and his mother, Wendy, is an archivist. His first big directorial project was the theater production of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “In The Heights.” The two met at Wesleyan, and together, they created Freestyle Love Supreme — a freestyle hip-hop group directed by Kail.
Kail currently has two big Jewish projects in the works — a new “Fiddler on the Roof” movie and a TV series based on the Holocaust novel “We Were the Lucky Ones.”
Kail and Williams had their second child together earlier this month. The two tied the knot in 2020, before the birth of their first son, Hart, and reportedly bought a townhouse in Brooklyn Heights together the same year. Williams has a daughter, Matilda, 17, with Heath Ledger, who passed away in 2009. They are generally secretive about their relationship and private lives, but Williams has publicly acknowledged their relationship and children on multiple occasions.
After winning a 2020 SAG Award for best actress for “Fosse/Verdon,” in which she played actress and dancer Gwen Verdon, Williams dedicated her win to her then-fiancé and daughter:
“Tommy, like everything else in our life, I share this with you,” she said, adding, “Matilda, it’s one thing to be completely honest as an actor — it’s another thing to be completely honest as a human being. And that’s just who you are and how you live, and you teach me just by being you. I love you and I’m coming home.”
According to JTA, Kail is falling in line with the majority of American Jews who are married to non-Jews by raising his children in the Jewish tradition.
Williams is also falling in line with her “Brokeback Mountain” co-star, Anne Hathaway. Like Williams, she is playing a Jewish mother in an autobiographical movie adaptation this year — James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.” And like Williams, she is also the mother of Jewish children, raising her two sons with husband film producer Adam Shulman Jewish.
We kind of love this two-person trend!