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Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches

By: Phoebe ReillyShe bitches, she broods, she has her roommate committed, butMichelle Williams is still the sanest person in ProzacNation

Whenever a television program is showing the symptoms of impending cancellation, its cast has to worry whether they’re going to follow it to the grave. Such is the case with Dawson’s Creek, which, after nearly six seasons of melodrama and suspiciously sophisticated dialogue, is rumored to be limping its way toward a permanent finale. For all the bravery and raw talent she’s demonstrated on the series, Michelle Williams can’t mask her concern that she’ll always bear the stigma of the show that made her famous.

“I don’t know what it will be like to move on from something that has defined me for so long,” says the 22-year-old actress. Even if the WB had never existed, Williams could still take pride in her impressive résumé of films, which includes everything from big-studio comedies like Dick to quieter independent fare like Me Without You. Yet there’s no denying that she’s always recognized as Dawson’s Jen Lindley, the girl with the checkered past and the foil to brooding tomboy Joey Potter, played by Katie Holmes (who was clearly intended to be the series’ star). Unlike her high-cheekboned, prominently foreheaded castmates, however, only Williams has demonstrated the instincts needed to survive outside of fictional Capeside, Massachusetts.

In person, she has the tastes and the disposition of a stereotypical indie-rocker, still reminiscing about that great Smog concert she just saw and enthusing over the new Cat Power record. “I’m really drawn to sadness and loneliness,” she says, “in music and in people.” So it’s fitting that she’s costarring in this month’s long-awaited Prozac Nation, the adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s brutally honest memoir about youth and depression. The film casts Christina Ricci as the volatile Harvard undergrad and Williams as Ruby, her best friend and college roommate who is eventually driven away by Wurtzel’s anger and madness–alternately dragging Wurtzel to the hospital for help and threatening to kill the aspiring author herself.

Still, Williams, who devoured the print version of Prozac Nation long before signing on to the movie, sees the film as a redemptive experience for viewers like her, offering more realistic role models than those provided by teenage soap operas. “It’s a rotten time to be a girl right now, and the media makes it harder,” she says. “Every girl who read that book is waiting for the movie. For me, the struggle for health–for mental health–is what makes it so compelling.”

Though it’s not yet available as a novel at your local Barnes & Noble, Williams’ own life story is equally gripping: Raised in rural Montana before moving to California, she was legally emancipated from her parents at age 15 for professional as well as emotional reasons. The lack of family supervision and the freedom it brought may have contributed to some of her more daring career choices, even after Dawson’s Creek was an established hit: She played a sexually adventurous college student in HBO’s If These Walls Could Talk 2 and a trailer-park Lolita in the off-Broadway play Killer Joe, a role that required brief nudity. “Some people have morality clauses in their contract,” she says. “I must not.” But she’s not desperate to shed her clothes just to prove she can play an adult. “I don’t intentionally look for roles that are different from Jen so I can divorce myself from her,” she explains. “But I feel like the films I’ve made are more reflective of me.”

So perhaps Williams isn’t all that disappointed to see Dawson’s Creek–which she likens to “making a teen movie nine months a year”–run dry,if only for the opportunity to find some solitude. “I picked up Jonathan Franzen’s book of essays, How to Be Alone, the other day,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘If you’re going to tell me how to be alone, I will definitely pay $15 for your book.'”