This article first ran in Alt Variety on May 15, 2012.
By Tony Sokol
Michael C. Williams will be remembered as we last saw him in Blair Witch, huddled dead in a corner. Blair Witch was unprecedented, made for what some films spend on catering, it sold more popcorn than any indie horror film ever made. But with great success comes backlash. The Blair Witch Curse. Cast and crew fell from the giddy highs of being in the biggest breakthrough film of its generation to leaving Hollywood and acting entirely.
One of nine kids, Williams was born in the Bronx, and raised in Thornwood, N.Y. He graduated from SUNY New Paltz and now teaches acting at The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y. Michael left behind several myths that still haunt Hollywood. He unintentionally tricked the New York Times into running a piece saying he played ball on a Yankee Farm Team. “My mother was from Yonkers and my father was from the Bronx. So we were big Yankee fans,” he says. “I used the Yankee farm team as part of my character bio for Blair Witch. And the funny thing was the Times ran it as my bio.”
Michael clearly enjoyed it. He was feted at the MTV and Kids’ Choice Awards. “That was extraordinarily fun. Britney was dancing in the parking lot at the Nick Kids’ Choice Awards before she was Britney. I watched her rehearse. I was engaged to be married otherwise I would have hit on her. I enjoyed it more than the other two. (Joshua Leonard, who played the cameraman who disappears in the woods and Heather Donohue, whose tear and snot-filled monologue stole the film) because I had a feeling right off the bat I’m not going to stress out over what kind of tux I’m wearing. I’m just going to enjoy it. I wanted to enjoy the 10 to fifteen minutes of fame .
“It took me a long two years thinking things would pop” before Michael realized he wasn’t being fitted into the Hollywood machine despite being in a movie that set movie box-office records, but “I got exactly what I was hired for. We got 1% for every million the movie made. Maybe they should have thrown us another bone. But I realized pretty quick that wasn’t going to happen. I got a basket of fruit from Artisan, with a canteen and a film clapper. But there was no check for a new car. So I knew okay that’s their appreciation. But nobody owed it to us so we couldn’t complain.”
Another myth that followed the crew was that, between the innovative marketing and the mystery surrounding the project, a lot of people thought the film showed a real life incident that was being documented. The characters couldn’t be actors, they looked too natural. “That’s the whole point of acting, not to let them see you’re acting. You’re supposed to be living and breathing in the moment. People actually believed it. They gave us this playground where we knew were safe, but we could easily get pounced on. We were constantly trying to stay in character. Trying to believe something was chasing us through the woods.” The actors might get notes hidden in a film canister. Michael may have acted himself out of a career. He was trained in realistic acting. When he was looking for other roles he found that casting agents treated him like a reality TV star, an oddity.
He got roles on Law and Order, Without a Trace and Law and Order SVU. “I got a funny Law and Order story. It was around Thanksgiving ‘99, I met Jerry Ohrbach and Angie Harmon and they were great. I had just gotten married and Angie Harmon was good to me, you know `Hi, how are you.’ But one day Angie comes running in and yells `You’re Michael from Blair Witch.’ I thought this was great. Angie loves my acting. So, on a Friday she comes up to me and says `a few of us are going to go out for drinks.’ I’m thinking wow, fucking Angie Harmon is hitting on me. But I just got married so I say to her I’m really sorry but I just got married. She say its fine, my husband’s going to be there too. Cut to an hour later, she walks into the room with Jason Seahorn of the New York Giants. He’s her husband. He’s six-four, makes a million a year and here I am. I made a complete ass out of myself.”
“Heather, Josh and I just did a reunion at an autograph show in Philadelphia. I keep in touch with Josh Leonard and Ed Sanchez and I’m Facebook friends with all of them. I haven’t read Heather’s book yet, but I’m going to. Ed Sanchez tried to cast me in Lovely Molly. I had to say no because I had just started working as a guidance counselor. “
What about the new crop of films being made that were influenced by Blair Witch but avoided the curse? “I was excited by Paranormal Activity. They made it work for mass appeal. I was happy for them because they were all unknowns.”
I’d heard that he was starting a theater troupe. “I’m not working on it at all. I will go back to it this year or next. I’m a guidance counselor now, fortunate enough to get a job in a school in upstate New York. It’s taken me away from acting but I love it. I did so much for so many years that I’m okay with not doing anything. I have a wife and two kids, Mia and Dean, 7 and 9, and it takes a lot of nights to start a theater company.”
Michael has no bitterness, he clearly enjoyed it all and when I ask him if he believes in the Blair Witch curse he says, simply, “No man, the fucking Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004. There’s no such thing as curses.”
If you want a crash course in horror, check out this Nerdmuch breakdown of The Blair Witch Project.