Playing a figure as distinct as Marilyn Monroe is going to be fraught under the best of circumstances. An actor must carefully consider their approach. Does one, for instance, attempt a straight imitation of Monroe? Is it better to look and sound correct, even if it's to the detriment of bringing one's own unique acting impulses into the equation? Or does one stray far from strict accuracy, allowing themselves to emote on a broader canvas, inviting accusations of historical infidelity?
These questions weighed heavily on Ana de Armas who played Monroe in Andrew Dominick's upcoming Netflix film "Blonde." De Armas, star of "Knock Knock," "Knives Out," and featured in a notable fight sequence in "No Time to Die," plays a highly fictionalized version of Monroe in a stylized retelling of the star's life and death. Reviews for "Blonde" are already mixed, with some critics praising its willingness to take risks, and others being completely put off by its unabashed vulgarity. "Blonde" is, if these reviews are any indicator, poised to be one of the more talked-about movies of the year. De Armas rests at the center.
In a recent interview with Variety, de Armas reveals that her audition to play Monroe was an overwhelming experience. Not only did she require a speech coach to approximate Monroe's particular patois, but she struggled with finding a balance between accuracy and acting. Because she really wanted to play the part, de Armas also admits to feeling a great deal of pressure. She knew that if she blew the first screen test, the part could conceivably be lost, and perhaps the entire project. "Blonde" would not be greenlit unless de Armas could prove she could play the part. Luckily, the stress ended up being something of a boon.
Hiding Under The Table
De Armas admits that she didn't have much time to prepare. She worked with a vocal coach to imitate Monroe's voice, but found she couldn't pronounce words in Marilyn's style unless she was repeating them immediately after her coach said them. De Armas, in order to get the voice "correctly," required constant in-room prompting during her screen test. De Armas said:
"I hadn't had the training and the voice and everything. So my coach was crouching on the floor, under the table. I just knew that everything we did that day was going to be the definitive test of the movie to be greenlit or not."
De Armas' audition scene was played opposite Monroe's husband Joe DiMaggio, played by Bobby Cannavale in the movie. In the scene, de Armas had to plead with her husband to leave Los Angeles and move to New York where she could live happily away from the showbiz machine that she had grown to hate. De Armas recalls that every single one of her lines was being fed to her by her coach who was literally hiding under a table. This meant de Armas had to listen and repeat lines very quickly, all while staying "in the scene." It became overwhelming. She says she could feel herself losing a handle on the scene:
"It was just getting worse and worse and worse — it was a constant reminder that I wasn't good enough. It doesn't matter what I say or how I say it, it is still not good enough. And I'm not going to be accepted for this."
Luckily for de Armas, her anxiousness about playing Marilyn Monroe played directly into director Dominick's vision of the famous Hollywood icon. "Blonde" seems to depict Monroe as a victim of a soulless machine who constantly demanded more from her. According to de Armas, fear of rejection was a large part of Monroe's character. As such, de Armas was able to channel all her nervousness about the role into the role. In a fortuitous coincidence, de Armas weaponized her anxiety. Eventually — she affably commented — she was able to play Marilyn without requiring a coach hiding under a table. She said:
"Using my emotions — how I felt about playing the role — was the way I approached the entire film, embracing my fears and my vulnerability, my feeling uncomfortable and my insecurities. My coach wasn't under the table the whole time."
De Armas, it seems, nailed the part. "Blonde," already notable for being the first film released by a major streaming service to receive an NC-17 rating, will hit Netflix on September 28. /Film's review by the venerable Lex Briscuso is currently available to read.
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