Tuesday, 15 November 2011 19:57
While tons of women through the decades have dreamed of playing Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams actually gets to recreate the vintage sex symbol in this month’s My Week with Marilyn.
Directed by Simon Curtis, this steamy docudrama plays out in 1956 England during the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl. It includes the infatuated twenty-something Brit Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), on whose memoir this film is based; fleeting spouse and acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott); and impulsive Marilyn's even more exasperated director and co-star, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). During our conversation, 31 year-old Michelle discusses the many sides of playing 31 year-old Marilyn and baring her soul for the movie.
By Prairie Miller
Tell us about your discovery of the Marilyn in you and getting inside her head and body.
It all started with watching movies, listening to interviews and pouring over books. It's almost like a multiple role because you're playing someone who's playing a role herself, and then who's playing a role in a movie. And the nude thing, too.
It was very self-conscious. So it all started at home, watching movies and trying to mimic a walk, or figuring out how exactly is it that she's holding her mouth. And these flashes of skin become so much more erotic.
The first big discovery that I stumbled on was that Marilyn Monroe herself, Marilyn Monroe, was a character that she played. And the image that you're most familiar with, there was a person underneath that.
So that was the first big discovery. But it was artifice, and it was honed to where you couldn't tell that it was artifice. It felt so real. But it was something that she'd studied and perfected and crafted. Once I discovered there was this layer, then it was finding out what that layer was and then getting underneath it. It was a long and ungainly process.
Did you think of it in those terms, almost like you were playing three Marilyns—the private woman, the public sex goddess and her character in The Prince and the Showgirl?
I don't know if we ever talked about it like that. Yeah, in some way it's not when you think of them separately. You want to think of them together because they need to adhere.
I know that there are three different aspects, but I don't know how much it helps me to think of them as three separate people. Because they are, of course, connected.
How about the way she switched up the whole idea of female sexuality?
Well, it seems like for the most part that it's forgotten. It's like, did they have to lay down with their husbands at night in the biblical sense? And the answer is yes … because babies were being born.
Are you ever tempted to fall in love with your leading men?
There’re a lot of goodbyes in this business, that’s what I’ve learned. Goodbye to the people you met in the places you’ll never return to. Goodbye to the character you played. And goodbye to the actor you pretended to be in love with! Yeah, there's a lot of letting go.
What about your scenes with co-star Kenneth Branagh, and how the two of you developed that negative sexual tension between Monroe and Olivier?
I think that the only distance we might have kept was because we were both so absorbed in our process. We sat next to each other in the hair and makeup chairs, and it was like command central number one and command central number two.
You know, we both were married to our computers. Headphones in our ears and constantly watching, listening, absorbing and then going out and doing.
So the only kind of separation that occurred was part of trying to capture somebody who was. And that requires a certain amount of technical attention.
How about hidden meanings?
I hesitate to even talk about that, because a story ceases to be subtle anymore. If you're telling people what it's about, then they don't get to make their own guesswork in their brain.
You don't actually get to use your own mind when somebody's telling you the answer. You don't have to work for it. And so you're not using your brain. It's like when you have a kid. You can't do everything for them. Otherwise they'll never learn.
A movie is really about your own dream and where your own mind takes you. And wherever it goes is the right place.
What was the challenge of singing in the movie, and then on top of that, singing in another woman's voice?
Well like I said, Marilyn Monroe was a creation. And that creation took a lot of personal work. And she also had teachers. Trainers were sort of more common then. Professionals that would help make these stars, and help develop these talents.
I was, as she was, very lucky on this movie to be surrounded and supported by great people. I had a wonderful man, David Crane, who worked with me every day for a couple of weeks—taught me. I'm not a singer; I have not sung since I was ten years old or something.
He taught me about breathing and about how to deliver emotion on lines, instead of just the words. So I had him. And then in my ears I listened to—I still do, it comes up on my iPod all the time—all the Marilyn Monroe singing. I listened to her. And she was very influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, and so I listened to a lot of that.
How weird was it shooting the movie in Marilyn's actual dressing room?
Yes, my dressing room! My dressing room was Marilyn's actual dressing room when she was making The Prince and the Showgirl.
There's a difference in celebrity culture today in contrast to the 1950s that we see in My Week with Marilyn. What do you feel is the biggest difference in celebrity culture today?
The Internet! It's just the acceleration and proliferation of information. It's always existed. It just has more forms to take.
You've had an interesting career, starting out as a teen idol...
Was I? Oh no!
Well, Dawson's Creek and now Marilyn Monroe. But you're not going the Hollywood bombshell movie star route. How do you feel about everything that's come to you?
Lucky. Very, very, very very lucky.
Do you still feel like you need to shed that image from Dawson’s Creek?
No. I spent enough time in its clutches. And the second that show ended, the very second it ended, I was set free. It was a weight, a perceived weight that I put on myself. I left as quickly as it came. And I've barely thought about it.
You seem to go for the smaller indie films. Are you totally against aliens and guns?
Yeah, I guess so. And I think I would do really bad at it—acting with an alien or acting with a gun. I just can’t see myself there; that’s just not for me. Like I felt that I gave up so much time doing something that I wasn’t one hundred percent invested in, being on Dawson’s Creek, that I don’t want to waste any time anymore.