The iconic image of the wide-smiling diva with the billowing skirt is distant in the pitch-black Marilyn Monroe film blonde. A conversation with actress Ana de Armas and director Andrew Dominik. “I wanted to traumatize the public.”
Ana de Armas (34) looks frail and nervous. A baggy black blazer drapes over her shoulders like protective armor. As if she is already bracing herself for the storm of criticism that will inevitably erupt when blondethe radical Marilyn Monroe film in which she plays the lead will premiere at the Venice Film Festival the day after our conversation.
Due to pandemic and editing woes, the Cuban actress had to wait three years to share with the world the most amazing interpretation of her young career. It seems like an eternity since Andrew Dominik (54) chose her as his Marilyn, she says, but she can still clearly remember the cocktail of mixed emotions that coursed through her body at that moment. “I was excited because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And at the same time I was terrified because Marilyn means so much.”
Dominik, who sits next to De Armas and regularly instructs her to repeat our questions out loud into his malfunctioning ears, has practiced patience for much longer than three years. The New Zealand director, known for The murder of Jesse James by the coward Robert Fordalready started working on in 2010 blondeinspired by Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized Marilyn Monroe biography of the same name from 2000. “I wasn’t a big Marilyn fan at the time,” Dominik admits, “but that book really grabbed me.”
Like Oates, Dominik anchors her story in the unhappy childhood of Norma Jeane Mortenson, the name Monroe was born with on June 1, 1926. She never got to know her father: his absence would always remain a bottomless hole in her soul. Mother Gladys, who suffered from serious mental problems, also caused the necessary trauma: Norma Jeane spends her early years in an unsafe, sometimes violent environment, and is then moved from nursing home to orphanage.
How she managed to become one of the most loved actresses of all time after the loveless childhood: It could be a fairy tale, but in this film it is more like a nightmare. Dominik shows Norma Jeane inventing the alter ego Marilyn Monroe to ease her pain. But the more successful Marilyn becomes, the more Norma Jeane loses herself in it. “Marilyn Monroe is Norma’s armor, but also her prison,” says Dominik.
blonde is a heavy-handed dismantling of the Marilyn Monroe myth. The woman who emerges in this film is the dark side of the smiling diva with the billowing skirt etched in the collective memory. “There is something missing from the story that is usually hung from Marilyn,” says Ana de Armas. “We know her as an icon, as an actress, as a star… But we know almost nothing about the person under all those layers, under the make-up, behind the film characters. Marilyn was never fully understood. That is why there has always been so much speculation about her life and death.”
“Marilyn Monroe has everything that is considered desirable in our society,” continues Dominik. “She’s famous, she’s beautiful, she has a great job, she’s in relationships with the great heroes of her time… and yet she kills herself. What does that say about us and about our idea of success? Look, I not trying to tell the truth about Marilyn’s life in this movie. My goal is not to be accurate, that would be the worst for me. I’m trying to tell an emotional truth and look for means by Marilyn Monroe. Why is it that the woman widely regarded as the American goddess of love at some point doesn’t want to live anymore? In fact, this movie is not about her, it’s about us. Because we helped create her.”
Furthermore, Dominik believes that Monroe’s personal demons are recognizable to everyone: “The film starts with her childhood trauma and then shows the world through the lens of that trauma. This is actually what we all experience. Everyone has injuries that color their view of reality. And with a celebrity like Marilyn Monroe, it’s all really magnified. So the film uses a mythical figure to describe a very universal human life experience.”
more is more
As can be expected when touching an American myth, did blonde caused quite a stir even before the world premiere. That the film would be very explicit – as it turned out when the American screening committee for blonde brought out the strictest (and extremely rare) NC-17 mark – for example, angry. Even after the first screening in Venice, many were shocked by some revealing scenes of sexual violence against Monroe.
But Dominik doesn’t care, he won’t apologize for the way he makes films: “I’m just not less is more-male. Rather a more is more-male. (laughing) My intention was to traumatize the audience with this film. I wanted the viewer to have the same experience as Marilyn.”
Early in the film, Monroe, at the time still early in her acting career, is thrown over her desk by a powerful studio boss and raped. Not much later, she gets her first important role. That’s really how it was in the film world back then, and the MeToo movement showed a few years ago that little had changed in all that time. “That’s exactly why Andrew didn’t get to make this film for so long,” says Ana de Armas. “No one wanted to give money to a movie that exposed what was still going on in Hollywood. But then the MeToo movement came along and suddenly there was an opportunity. Suddenly people were forced to listen to these kinds of stories. Suddenly it became hard not to support a film about a woman who had to endure this.”
Dominik adds: “MeToo was a magical moment in film history, when the big bosses felt for a moment that they had to take women’s views seriously. Whereas before then they only had an eye for how blonde cast the men in a bad light. Suddenly that argument no longer holds. The door was ajar, and we got through.”
Hard to shake off
With a subject that looks like Marilyn Monroe blonde perhaps tailor-made for the Oscars, but given the raw tenor of the film, the Academy might not be too generous with nominations. Only Ana de Armas seems confident on the price lists: the intensity with which she plays Norma Jeane/Marilyn drips with every shot. One could almost wonder if De Armas didn’t really step down from this emotionally devastating role. “It was really hard,” she admits. “I knew I was going to get hurt. There was no other way, this movie just asked me to. I felt heavy and sad throughout the recording period and even after. What remains is not so much the character, but the emotions you went through. You can’t just shake it off.’
De Armas didn’t get much time to chase Marilyn’s sadness out of her body. James Bond’s fault. “We had our last shooting day before blonde on a Friday and the following Monday I had to be in London on the set of No time to die stand.” In that film she played Bond’s playful, happy sidekick Paloma; the contrast to her character in blonde couldn’t be bigger. “If I had the choice, I would have liked to have had a little more time to come to my senses and say goodbye to this character and this unique experience. But the choice was not in my hands. I could only accept it.”
The actress as the toy of the industry: it almost sounds like an echo blonde. Moreover, in recent years De Armas has also experienced the kind of suffocating media attention that pushed Marilyn Monroe into the abyss: not only her meteoric rise as an actress (including a highly regarded role in Knives Out), but her private life (De Armas had a relationship with actor Ben Affleck) was also widely discussed in the press. blonde, and the possible Oscar tail that film is getting will only make its star rise further. Is De Armas wary of fame? “Thanks to this film, I have started to protect myself even better against other people’s pressure and expectations. I now place even more emphasis on privacy. Because what I learned from Marilyn is that if you have no limits and you just keep on giving, you’re going to be left with nothing in the long run.”
‘Blonde’ can be seen on Netflix from 28/09
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