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While accepting a performer tribute at the 32nd annual Gotham Awards in New York City on Monday, the Fabelmans star praised Peil, 82, who played Evelyn “Grams” Ryan on the popular WB series, crediting the veteran actress for the reason behind her success in the entertainment industry.
“Whenever something good happens for me in my life, I can draw a straight line back to somebody who was meant to be here tonight but, being a New Yorker, means living in a reality that you are definitely not in control of — so she’s not in the room, but she’s in my heart,” Williams, 42, began her heartfelt speech, per a video captured by Variety, before revealing that the person was Peil, who “played my grams on Dawson’s Creek.”
Dawson’s Creek aired for six seasons from 1998 to 2003. The show followed a group of friends as they grew up in the fictional seaside town of Capeside, Massachusetts. Williams played Jen Lindley.
Noting that she was “an emancipated minor” when she met Peil, Williams said, “I was 16 years old, and I was totally alone.”
“Mary Beth Peil was the first artist that I had ever met in my life,” she continued. “She didn’t call herself that, but there was something different about her. It was the way she asked questions, the way that she leaned into conversations, and how excited she seemed for every moment of every day on our TV set. And I didn’t know what this ineffable quality was, but I knew I wanted to pull my chair closer to hers.”
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After getting the chance to talk to her on a regular basis, Williams said she started to find out more about Peil.
“She was an opera singer, she was a Tony nominee, she was a mother, she crossed over from TV to film to theater like she was changing trains at rush hour; she could do anything,” Williams explained.
Williams reflected on what she learned from Peil, sharing that the actress “showed me that creativity was more than a mere profession. And all of this vitality was miraculously turned in my direction. Her smiling face was looking at me, and she called me her girl.”
“She told me stories about this place, New York f–ing City, and she said it was somewhere that I could go and I could build a life,” Williams continued. “She said that I should try doing theater. I started reading plays and talking to her about them, and she urged me on: ‘Yes, yes. That’s wonderful, my girl. You should do that, you should try that.'”
Williams recalled that, at the time, she wasn’t an artist, a mother nor a high-school graduate before quipping, “Honestly I was barely even a Michelle; I had just gotten people to stop calling me Shelly.”
“But now I was Mary Beth’s girl. And that made me a somebody,” she added.
While concluding her remarks, she expressed her gratitude for the recognition she received during the evening.
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“I am grateful for this honor because it allows me to look backwards in time and realize that I couldn’t have played Wendy Carroll [in Wendy and Lucy] or Randi Chandler [in Manchester by the Sea] or Marilyn [Monroe in My Week with Marilyn] or Gwen [Verdon in Fosse/Verdon] or Mitzi Fabelman [in The Fabelmans] without having first played Jen Lindley,” she said.
Added Williams, “I wouldn’t have known how to handle being Steven Spielberg‘s mother [in The Fabelmans] without having been Mary Beth’s granddaughter, so thank you Mary Beth, and thank you Gotham Awards for this.”
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