Yes, Olivia Williams has enjoyed a rich and busy career – playing a key role (Bruce Willis’ wife) in M. Night Shyamalan’s box office behemoth The Sixth Sense, and getting the pivotal part as the prime minister’s (Pierce Brosnan’s) duplicitous spouse in the new and neat Polanski thriller, The Ghost Writer -- but it’s fair to say that many people think of the English actress as, well, a school teacher.
In Wes Anderson’s 1998 breakthrough, Rushmore, Williams was Miss Cross, the love object of both her over-zealous teenage student (Jason Schwartzman) and a doleful, middle-aged moneybags (Bill Murray). And in the Oscar-nominated An Education, Williams is Miss Stubbs, the teacher that Carey Mulligan’s character -- a schoolgirl who jettisons her academic future to run off with an older man – runs to for counsel and commiseration.
“It’s funny, because it takes an outside eye to make these connections,” says Williams, on the phone from London recently, and acknowledging that more than a few folks have drawn the parallel between Misses Cross and Stubbs.
“Of course” – Williams gets deadpan and self-deprecating here – “it’s the same old performance. But it seems to have worked. And I feel that they probably have a similar sort of inner life. They’re not a million miles away from each other.”
The two characters are also, she notes, “profoundly revealed” by where they live. In Rushmore, “that amazing room that Wes created… of her sleeping in her dead husband’s bedroom. And then, as so many people have remarked, on how the apartment that Miss Stubbs lives in in An Education kind of made for a happy ending. You just thought, you know, the girl’s going to be all right being an academic and a teacher. It isn’t so bad if you end up in a groovy boho apartment like Miss Stubbs’.”