Through Her Eyes
Ana de Armas is Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming Blonde written and directed by Andrew Dominik, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’s novel.
How can one of the most famous women who has ever lived remain an enigma almost six decades after her death? It’s a question that lies at the heart of the enduring cultural fascination with Marilyn Monroe, the screen icon whose bombshell image belied a fierce intelligence as well as a tumultuous private life.
Based on the best-selling novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and a longtime passion project for writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Blonde paints a fictional portrait of the life of the model, actress, and singer, chronicling her journey from Norma Jeane Baker, abused daughter of a single mother, to the most sought-after celebrity in the world.
“Andrew’s ambitions were very clear from the start — to present a version of Marilyn Monroe’s life through her lens,” says Ana de Armas (Knives Out, The Gray Man, No Time To Die) who stars as the Hollywood icon. “He wanted the world to experience what it actually felt like to not only be Marilyn, but also Norma Jeane. I found that to be the most daring, unapologetic, and feminist take on her story that I had ever seen.”
Imagining what might have occurred behind closed doors gave Dominik the opportunity to delve into Monroe’s inner psyche. “She’s deeply traumatized, and that trauma necessitates a split between a public self and a private self, which is the story of everyone, but with a famous person, that often plays out publicly, in ways that may cause additional trauma,” Dominik says. “The film’s very much concerned with the relationship with herself and with this other persona, Marilyn, which is both her armor and the thing that is threatening to consume her."
Similar to the novel, Blonde meticulously recreates iconic moments from Monroe’s life and career — including her show-stopping performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Howard Hawks’s 1953 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — but it also takes dramatic license with her life, featuring characters who are based on historical figures as well as amalgams of people she might have known. The film’s strong supporting cast features Adrien Brody as The Playwright, Bobby Cannavale as The Ex-Athlete, and Julianne Nicholson as Norma Jeane’s mother.
“We worked on this film for hours, every single day for almost a year,” recalls de Armas. “I read Joyce’s novel, studied hundreds of photographs, videos, audio recordings, films — anything I could get my hands on. Every scene is inspired by an existing photograph. We’d pore over every detail in the photo and debate what was happening in it. The first question was always, ‘What was Norma Jeane feeling here?’ We wanted to tell the human side of her story. Fame is what made Marilyn the most visible person in the world, but it also made Norma the most invisible.”
De Armas’s commitment to Blonde was tireless — she spent between two-and-a-half to three hours in hair and makeup each morning of the film’s 47-day shoot before arriving on set to work through a series of emotionally wrenching scenes. Her fearless, multifaceted performance consistently impressed Dominik. “I was really lucky to have Ana because she could just do anything,” Dominik says. “She was so good. She would get there so quickly. Her feelings were just so under her skin, and anything I said to her, she really understood. The scenes would always just come to life because Ana was there.”
“Our movie is not linear or conventional; it is meant to be a sensorial and emotional experience,” says de Armas. “The film moves along with her feelings and her experiences. There are moments when we are inside of her body and mind, and this will give the audience an opportunity to experience what it was like to be Norma and Marilyn at the same time.”
Although early reports have focused on Blonde’s NC-17 rating, Dominik says the material’s larger and more complex themes — the human cost of the Hollywood system, the power, and perils of female sexuality, the lifelong impact of childhood trauma — demanded an unflinching approach. “The film is sincere. It’s made with love. It’s made with good intentions. But it’s full of rage at the same time,” says Dominik, “I seem to get myself in these situations where people regard me as provocative, but it’s never what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to say it as clearly as I can. My ambition is to make you fall in love with Marilyn.”
Blonde releases globally on Netflix September 23, 2022.