Marilyn Monroe is one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors to this very day. However, like quite a few Hollywood actors, her life was tragically cut short by personal and professional struggles, leaving behind mystery and unfulfilled potential.
Many actresses have portrayed Monroe in the past few decades from Catherine Hicks in Marilyn: The Untold Story to Susan Griffiths in Marilyn And Me, while at the same time trying to unwrap some of the actress’ mysterious persona. Now the latest actress to fill the Hollywood icon’s shoes is Oscar nominee Michelle Williams in the film My Week With Marilyn.
In the film, which is based on two tell-all books by Colin Clark, Marilyn spends a week in Britain with then-assistant director Clark, played by Eddie Redmayne, during the filming of The Princess And The Showgirl in 1957 while her newly-minted husband Arthur Miller is away. The 31 year-old actress talks emulating Marilyn’s singing and dancing skills in the film’s opening musical number.
“I’m not a singer or a dancer,” Williams says, “I haven’t done both of those since I was ten years old. And in some ways, because of that, I felt like when I was able to put the nerves aside, I felt a tremendous outpouring of joy. I felt like a little girl whose dreams came true for the first time. And I was able to tap into what I would imagine made Marilyn Monroe so luminous in those singing and dancing numbers.”
“What I experienced was when you’re in that state, your critical mind has to turn off, there’s no room for it, there are steps and lyrics,” she adds, “It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time and maybe that’s what makes those performances so magical is that she’s not thinking. So they took everything else in this movie for me just a tremendous amount of preparation and the willingness to start at the very beginning, to not know what to do, to make mistakes along the way, and to not be hard on myself for those and to realize that they are part of the process.”
Williams shared her thoughts on the use of Method acting to portray characters.
“I suppose whatever works,” she replies, “For me, for this, I never done anything that required so much technical know-how. This was the first attempt that I had made, really the first that I admitted from the outside in, because I knew I was going to have a very, very long way to go. Where I, Michelle, have wound up after 31 years is very different from Marilyn. And so for the first time, I started externally which was a switch-up for me, similar to Marilyn, I suppose. I’m not trained. I just showed up to classes now and then, read lots of books, and at 31, have made some kind of amalgamations, some sort of hodgepodge of my own personal experience, what I know works for me in the moment, what I have learned from other actors, what I’ve picked up from books, and I certainly don’t know what I would call it.”
“But at the time, I think the method was, the people that were driving the method were actually alive and in the room and how exciting would that have been?” Michelle continues, “To be directed by [Elia] Kazan and have [Lee] Strasberg by your side.So now we sort of get secondhand information. It’s sort of the soup of the soup. It’s passed on and similarly, literally, whatever works, I’m not beyond doing rain dances or whatever. I’m still experimenting, too. I’m still finding out for me what works for, And I think the reason that keeps me acting, that keeps me excited about it, is that I’m still learning about it. The answers change and new information comes in all the time that transforms how I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
Michelle also was asked whether or not Marilyn Monroe had an influence on her growing up.
“Has she influenced? She hasn’t, to be honest,” she replies, “I had a picture of her in my bedroom when I was growing up. And so I’ve always had some sort of response to her. But only because of her image, I wasn’t aware of her movies. When I had that picture in my bedroom, I hadn’t really seen any work that she had done.”
“Although at the time, I was very interested in the method, God knows why,” Williams adds, “But at 12, that’s what I was reading about. I was reading about James Dean or Montgomery Clift or [Marlon] Brando and thus Marilyn, they were my heartthrobs. But I didn’t know her body of work and really only came to as a result of taking on this film.”
Williams also talks about her views of how Marilyn Monroe lived life as a woman in the pre-feminist era of the American film industry.
“I wish she could experience what I have been able to, which is to work outside of a studio system,” Michelle says of her, “To not be bound to playing the same role, to not be a contract player, to not basically be on a salary, and take what’s given to you. I wish that she could experience choice and independence, and exert her creative will like I feel very lucky to have been able to.”
Michelle was asked what her favorite film of Marilyn Monroe is.
“I wish I could say The Prince And The Showgirl,” Williams says, “Some Like It Hot, how can you not? And I’m also pretty fond of The Misfits, maybe because it was a shot, sort of her only shot, she had problems with the role, but it was her only shot at a serious part.”