Ana de Armas talks controversial Marilyn Monroe film ‘Blonde’

Ana de Armas photographed on the Hollywood Roosevelt Lodge.

(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Instances)

Graciously illuminated by the midafternoon California solar, Ana de Armas tries to recall when or how she first grew to become conscious of Marilyn Monroe. The fast-rising star can’t pinpoint when their paths first crossed.

“To be honest, I don’t think I remember the first time I saw her,” she mentioned throughout a current chat from her dwelling in Los Angeles.

It might have been many years in the past in Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba — maybe one among Monroe’s films performed on a tv display screen {that a} younger Ana Celia de Armas Caso glimpsed with out but registering her relevance.

Nevertheless it’s extra possible, she believes, that she really engaged with Monroe’s indelible picture solely after leaving her Caribbean homeland for Spain at 18, when her world opened as much as movies beforehand inaccessible.

Without delay ever-present and elusive in our collective consciousness, Monroe stays an emblematic determine from a seemingly bygone Hollywood period — when exploitative trade practices prevailed unquestioned — and a popular culture mainstay since her premature passing in 1962.

Her troubled life story has impressed quite a few scripted and nonfiction productions, together with the 1996 HBO film “Norma Jean and Marilyn,” Michelle Williams’ Oscar-nominated flip in “My Week With Marilyn” and Liz Garbus’ 2012 documentary “Love, Marilyn.”

Now, De Armas, 34, provides to the canon as a fictionalized model of the “Some Like It Hot” star — and, extra importantly, of the lady born Norma Jeane Mortenson — in director Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” tailored from Joyce Carol Oates’ 1999 novel.

Filmed over 9 weeks in 2019 after which delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic — in addition to a reportedly contentious back-and-forth between Dominik and Netflix because the filmmaker stayed resolute on his imaginative and prescient for the movie’s size and substance — “Blonde” has its long-awaited bow subsequent week in competitors on the Venice Movie Competition.

A black-and-white image of a blond woman posing in a billowing, white dress

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”

(Netflix)

The movie then hits choose theaters Sept. 16 and launches Sept. 28 on Netflix. It’s going to turn into one of many streaming large’s few NC-17 rated choices, a label attributed to “some sexual content” and one cause it has stirred vital on-line chatter about its depiction of traumatic occasions. To date, a lot of the discuss has come from those that haven’t seen any footage past promotional materials.

Over the course of its almost three-hour runtime of fluid and cinematically imaginative vignettes, “Blonde” chronicles Monroe’s abandonment points, her mom’s psychological sickness, a sexual assault, a collection of unstable relationships, her lack of company — each of her physique and her profession — and the expectations she endured from the studio, the lads who circled her, and the general public at giant; all to denounce how Norma Jeane’s personhood was commodified and her ache ignored.

For De Armas, incomes the position of an American icon appeared almost unfathomable.

“On paper I was not supposed to be playing Marilyn Monroe. I’m a Cuban actress. In what world could I have imagined that this was going to happen? Never,” De Armas mentioned, nonetheless considerably incredulous. “The fact that I got this opportunity was just something out of the ordinary.”

Dominik first witnessed De Armas’ onscreen attract in Eli Roth’s 2015 home-invasion horror flick “Knock Knock,” the place she performed a murderous customer reverse Keanu Reeves. It was then that he seen each her bodily resemblance to Monroe and the je ne sais quoi of her display screen presence.

Throughout the audition course of, De Armas selected to method the position as not a commemorated legend however slightly a relatable particular person present process extraordinary conditions with acquainted feelings.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Marilyn, a famous actress, or not, she’s still a woman,” mentioned De Armas. “And I knew I could understand that part at least.”

“When she read for it, you could feel her — the world revolved around her onscreen,” Dominik recalled by way of electronic mail. “The film didn’t really come to life until Ana appeared.”

Ana de Armas made films in her native Cuba before relocating to Spain.

Ana de Armas made movies in her native Cuba earlier than relocating to Spain.

(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Instances)

As soon as formally solid, De Armas started making ready for “Blonde” whereas nonetheless capturing the darkly comedic thriller “Knives Out” for writer-director Rian Johnson. Within the eventual sleeper hit, De Armas’ Marta is a quiet Latina nurse working for a rich household who unexpectedly finds herself on the heart of a whodunit and a fierce battle for a large inheritance. It was the movie that will elevate her standing in Hollywood past supporting roles.

“Part of the reason you are rooting for the character throughout is because Ana doesn’t play Marta as a shrinking violet or as somebody who is going to step away. She plays her as someone very much going to go toe-to-toe with the family holding her own,” famous Johnson. “She made the movie work.”

Whereas tackling 12-hour days on the set of “Knives Out,” De Armas would nonetheless discover the time and power to Zoom three hours a day together with her “Blonde” vocal coach. That unwavering dedication resulted in an in depth examination of Monroe’s speech.

“It was about observing her facial expressions, her mouth, the roundedness of her lips, how she showed her lower teeth, and why the ‘o’s were like that,” defined De Armas. “Someone’s voice is more than just a specific accent. It says so much more about a person.”

Dominik factors out that Monroe’s onscreen voice modified through the years relying on who was teaching her. There was a interval underneath coach Natasha Lytess when Monroe would over-emphasize each consonant; then, within the mid Fifties, she transitioned right into a baby-like tone, and later right into a extra naturalistic supply underneath mentor Lee Strasberg.

But, the voice that the majority involved Dominik, and in flip De Armas, was Monroe’s offscreen persona. Dominik cites an interview with Life journal affiliate editor Richard Meryman, the place Monroe appeared “drunk and quite shrill and brassy,” as one of many few references to her “true” sound.

De Armas got here to consider Monroe’s affectations have been manifestations of her unmet emotional wants and misery, however the vocal vary was just one facet of her activity. She was after a extra significant pursuit: attending to know Norma Jeane.

“To me, it was more important to understand where she was at emotionally every time, with every line, what was she thinking, what was she feeling, more than anything else,” mentioned De Armas. “That was my goal, to understand.”

Ana de Armas wanted to honor "Norma Jeane," the birth name of Marilyn Monroe.

Ana de Armas wished to honor “Norma Jeane,” the delivery identify of Marilyn Monroe.

(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Instances)

Requested if he had any apprehension in casting De Armas given her personal inherent accent as somebody for whom English is a just lately realized second language, Dominik mentioned: “I had concerns, until I saw her act, then I forgot what I was supposed to be concerned about.

“We felt that we were dealing with Norma Jeane and Norma should sound less like a cartoon of Marilyn Monroe,” he added. “Ana spent a year listening to all the Marilyns and arrived to something which felt real.”

As a part of her analysis, De Armas realized that Monroe took private speech lessons and felt slightly insecure about how her voice influenced perceptions of her and her work. With out placing almost as a lot stress on herself as Monroe did, De Armas mentioned she pertains to the will to enhance and to be seen as a multilayered artist.

“She associated that with being taken seriously. She struggled with that her entire life,” she mentioned. “She wanted to be considered a serious actress. But that’s not what people asked of her.”

The cornerstone of De Armas’ efficiency, and of the movie’s ethos, is the marked separation between Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe. De Armas’ job was to tackle a personality, Norma, who at instances performs Monroe.

“She would talk about Marilyn as if it was someone else, something that she didn’t prepare for. It just happened to her,” De Armas mentioned. “But she had to carry on with it. And it was a love-hate relationship that she had with Marilyn. She couldn’t stand being this image and what was expected from her anymore, at the same time it was what she needed to survive.”

Adrien Brody as The Playwright and Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in "Blonde."

Adrien Brody as The Playwright and Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”

(Netflix)

Early on, De Armas instinctively reacted with defensiveness and rage in scenes depicting the various injustices and abuses dedicated towards Norma, till one particular instruction from Dominik helped her comprehend how Norma walked by means of the world.

“Andrew told me, ‘You’re not allowed to ever express anger — that is not in her survival kit. She cannot afford that. You have to find other ways to get out of the situation, other ways to survive,’” De Armas recalled. “How do you navigate a normal life, let alone being her and living in that world, without being able to express anger or have boundaries?”

De Armas needed to grapple with how Norma used a demeanor of defenselessness as a protection mechanism. Since she couldn’t struggle again towards the male-dominated techniques that managed her existence, she relied on discovering protectors to rescue her. That in flip guided her physicality and the way she interacted with the world.

“Everything in the way she moved, the way she spoke, her tone, her breathiness, her facial expressions, her lips and her sensuality, it was all connected to her emotions,” mentioned De Armas. “It was not a calculated thing. When you don’t have the support that you need around you, when you’re alone, completely alone, what do you do? Well, the best you can.”

As De Armas labored to nail the inside of her character, an identical effort went into re-creating her exterior look. Involved that merely mimicking Monroe’s make-up on De Armas wouldn’t produce the specified outcomes, Dominik’s path to the hair and make-up staff was, “You cannot do Marilyn’s makeup on Ana. You have to make Ana look like Marilyn.” No prosthetics have been employed, solely delicate touches to seize Monroe’s most important options.

“Ana De Armas seems to have captured the quicksilver commingling of emotions that characterized Marilyn Monroe — an air of childlike expectation and yearning,” mentioned Oates by way of electronic mail, providing excessive reward for her flip. “No one of Marilyn Monroe’s numerous imitators — like Jayne Mansfield— came close to capturing her vulnerability as Ana de Armas has.”

Co-star Bobby Cannavale, whose character is impressed by Monroe’s short-time husband and baseball participant Joe DiMaggio, met De Armas for the primary time whereas she was in full costume, proper earlier than capturing one among their intense scenes collectively.

“The physical transformation was astonishing, but the fragility with which she walked through the room, and her attempt to put on a kind of armor while maintaining that fragility, was really striking to me,” Cannavale mentioned by telephone. “Whatever it was that she was emanating, it very strongly came through.”

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in a scene from "Blonde."

Recreating Monroe’s iconic “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” musical quantity in “Blonde.”

(Netflix)

Certainly one of Cannavale’s scenes with De Armas options an act of bodily violence — which, in keeping with Dominik, was executed with strict boundaries mentioned previous to the capturing. It’s one among a handful of principally implied moments the place the heroine endures abusive habits from males, and regardless of some issues already expressed by Monroe followers that the movie will exploit what the actor went by means of, each the star and auteur of “Blonde” stand by their intent.

“We made a movie about Norma Jeane. Otherwise, Norma would’ve remained invisible. We’re talking about the opposite of Marilyn Monroe. We’re talking about humanizing this person who hasn’t been seen and who was going through all of this, and she didn’t have anybody there for her to help her who didn’t have an agenda or didn’t need something from her,” mentioned De Armas. “My hope is that people feel more respect for her now that they can know her struggles and what she went through.”

“Depicting traumatic events is the opposite of exploitation,” added Dominik. “Showing a glamorous surface without acknowledging trauma is the very definition of exploitation.”

Along with the personal turmoil she skilled, Monroe was the sufferer of public scrutiny. Each ingredient of her life appeared up for grabs for the period’s tabloids. At the moment, De Armas empathizes with the sensation of violation that comes from having her intimacy uncovered, as she skilled in her romantic relationship with actor Ben Affleck.

Although she was by no means naive concerning the uncomfortable side effects of notable fame, De Armas mentioned that making “Blonde” bolstered her ferocious stance on defending her privateness in any respect prices. She confessed that whereas she has an Instagram account, she usually questions its use and worth.

“Nowadays the studios might not own actors, but the media does, and it’s pretty sad and very scary. I try as much as I can to not be a part of that and to live the life that I want to live and share what I want to share,” she mentioned. “Unfortunately, that’s not always in my control and it’s just the world that we’re living in now.”

De Armas, sure that the majority days she nonetheless speaks extra Spanish than English when not doing interviews, explains that the distinction is that not like Norma Jeane, she has individuals round her who forestall her from ever dwelling on navel-gazing ideas or frustration.

“You know what it’s like, you always get on the phone with your people. You always hear about what I call ‘real-life problems.’ There’s no way for me to not be connected to that because it’s my daily life. They’re here all the time,” she mentioned, holding up her cellphone, the car that preserves her bonds throughout the globe in Cuba, Spain and Los Angeles.

“I feel like my essence is still where it’s supposed to be. It’s still there, full on, untouched. I feel pretty grounded,” mentioned De Armas. “Sometimes I have to do things for my job like going on a press tour and promote movies and do red carpets. It’s part of the job, but I want to keep those reminders of who I am close to me.”

Ana de Armas prepared for her role in "Blonde"

Ana de Armas ready for her position in “Blonde” whereas filming her breakout position within the comedic thriller “Knives Out.”

(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Instances)

On condition that the journey for “Blonde” to succeed in the display screen began a number of years in the past, De Armas has let go of the preliminary stress she felt about enjoying Monroe. She trusts her work and says she’s not apprehensive about viewers reception. That the movie exists, and he or she defied the chances to be part of it, is sufficient.

“Whatever happens with the movie, it doesn’t matter. It matters that we told a story that we believed in. It matters that I played a character that I was not supposed to play, that I challenged myself, that I grew as an actress and as a person,” mentioned De Armas. “That’s what I take with me.”

On the opposite facet of essentially the most demanding feat of her flourishing profession, De Armas mirrored on how Hollywood represents — or, extra constantly, misrepresents — the various teams that comprise the various Latino ethnicity, usually lowering particular experiences to broad generalizations.

“About the opportunities that are out there today for us Latinos, I can tell you from my perspective, they’re not enough,” De Armas mentioned. “And I don’t feel like the parts that are there very well capture our essence, who we are, our communities, what we like, how we do things and our stories.”

With that in thoughts, De Armas nonetheless cherishes the three movies she made as a teenage theater pupil in her native Cuba earlier than migrating to Europe: “Una rosa de Francia,” “Madrigal” and “El edén perdido.” These early alternatives supplied her with a basis and a hands-on training that outlined the actor she would turn into.

“Those movies, they meant everything to me. They were the confirmation that this is what I want to do, these are the people I want to be with. This is where I’m the happiest. This is where I feel the most creative,” De Armas mentioned. “They were so much fun without me even understanding yet what making a movie was.”

Visibly emotional, De Armas recalled a current Fb publish from one among her former classmates in Cuba, who shared a photograph with reminiscences of their youthful days and congratulations on her accomplishments.

“That’s when you realize that the opportunity is for you, but it’s bigger than you. It reflects on your people. It shows them that the impossible is possible. Whether it’s my former classmate or the new kids in the first grade of drama school, they can now believe they can get roles like Marilyn Monroe,” she mentioned. “That’s why I did it. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t know people would feel that way about me taking this on, but deep inside, I did it for them.”