British actress Olivia Williams has become the go-to girl for roles demanding icy disdain covering up a tormented beating heart. Coming from a diverse theatrical background, Olivia began dabbling in the television/film arena in the early 1990’s. She first captured everyone’s attention in the role of Jane Fairfax in Jane Austen’s Emma in 1996, and after garnering rave reviews, moved quickly on to snag a pivotal role in Kevin Costner’s film The Postman in 1997. Those roles were quickly followed by roles as a lonely widow in Rushmore with Jason Schwartzman and Bruce Willis’ grieving wife in The Sixth Sense.
Over the next several years, she was cast regularly in British films such as Born Romantic with Craig Ferguson, The Body with Antonio Banderas, Lucky Break with Bill Nighy and Lennie James, The Heart of Me with Helen Bonham Carter and Paul Bettany, To Kill a King with Tim Roth and Dougray Scott and Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures. With such a diversified and preeminent list of roles and experiences at her disposal, Olivia took a stab at American film and appeared in X-Men: The Last Stand in an uncredited role as Dr. Moira MacTaggart. This lure to American film was short-lived and Olivia quickly returned to her roots in British film appearing in the dark drama Damage and the breezy adaptation Miss Austen Regrets based on the life of Jane Austen. (It is rather astounding that she has played both British greats Jane Austen and Agatha Christie.)
However, not one to stand still, Olivia continued to work on three films in 2008 and then rushed off to film the Oscar-predicted sensation An Education, appearing as the worldly-wise mentor for Carey Mulligan.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, Olivia caught Joss Whedon’s attention and he moved quickly to cast her as Adelle Dewitt in his new television show Dollhouse. Just as he has brilliantly done before, his casting choice was pitch-perfect. Olivia’s portrayal of Adelle Dewitt brought layers upon layers of complexity that cannot be written on a page. Just one quirk of an eyebrow or twitch of her lips and you can feel her raging anger and quest for vengeance more than any scene with overt dramatics could ever convey. She is able to harness all the deeper emotions and unleash them slowly so that the impact of them is felt acutely. The Dollhouse simply could not have been the Dollhouse without such a core and integral character and an actress who could channel that strength of will in the process. The duality built into the character demanded a caliber of performance that is rarely seen on primetime television and Olivia rose to that demand beautifully. Simply said, she is the Dollhouse. For when she is not on screen, her absence is keenly felt.
Despite the cancellation of Dollhouse, it is easy to foresee that Olivia will not be idle in its absence and we will be lucky to have her continue to grace us with her presence for many years to come. Long live Olivia and her masterful and mesmerizing performances!
Dollhouse airs Friday nights on Fox at 9/8c and will conclude its series run on January 22, 2010.