Michelle Williams Interview For Simon Curtis’ ‘My Week With Marilyn’
‘My Week With Marilyn’ chronicles a week in the life of Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) in which she escapes the shackles of her Hollywood career and embraces British life with Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). In the early summer of 1956, 23 year-old Colin Clark, just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, the film that famously united Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe, who was also on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).
Nearly 40 years on, his diary account ‘The Prince, the Showgirl and Me’ was published, but one week was missing and this was published some years later as ‘My Week with Marilyn’ – this is the story of that week. When Arthur Miller leaves England, the coast is clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life; an idyllic week in which he escorted a Monroe desperate to get away from her retinue of Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work. The biographical drama is directed by Simon Curtis and also stars the likes of Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson. Look out for ‘My Week with Marilyn’ in cinemas November 23rd in the US, and November 25th in the UK.
What is your process with jumping on board a project, or deciding that you’ll undertake a transformation like this?
Michelle Williams: I always feel like there’s an intangible connection that happens between you and a piece of material when you read it for the very first time. So the first time I read something is always the most important time, and I always make sure I can read it in one full-swoop, so I don’t have to get up and interrupt the experience. As soon as I closed this I knew that it was going to be the next movie I would make. I basically started….in that same breathe, I started to prepare, because I knew I needed as long as humanly possible to make this transformation (laughs).
This film shows a human side to Marilyn. How was that to portray, this side to Marilyn Monroe people may not associate with her?
Michelle Williams: There’s certain things that don’t exist as facts, like her voice for example. The voice you come to associate Marilyn with, the voice in the movies, that’s not her voice. From all the reading and research I did, that was a character that she developed, it was something she put on, it was years of training, vocal coaching – it was an affectation that she developed. From my understanding, her normal voice, her real voice, it was quite normal, and the same thing with her walk. At a certain point you have to kind of make a leap of faith, because recordings exist of her talking in films, recordings exist of her singing, talking in commercials, recordings even exist of her doing interviews – but there’s something very pointed about her speech in an interview, she’s trying to relay a certain message about who she is, and there’s a certain downcast to all of her sentences that isn’t conversational. So because that material didn’t exist I had to take an imaginative leap and say, “Here’s what I think it would be, here’s what I think she would sound like, and here’s who I think she is, because we’re not privy to her private moments, those aren’t captured on film, so here’s my imagination of who she was in the moments we’ve never seen before.”
There’s so many layers to your performance. It’s not the usual Marilyn Monroe impressions we’ve seen on screen in the past. How did you approach the role, and who did you discover Marilyn to be in the process?
Michelle Williams: Thank you. Like you said, because the previous representations of her were more of that ilk, it felt like there was room, that was kind of the first thing that made me think, “Well, maybe I can explore this.” It was a decision made in the safety of my own home, I didn’t really consider the larger implications of it. And it was a very, very slow process, it all started at home. It all started with watching movies, listening to interviews, poring over books. It was just something that I put on in my living room, to try to mimic a walk, or figure out how exactly it is she’s holding her mouth.
The first sort of big discovery that I stumbled on was for Marilyn Monroe herself, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ was a character that she played. And the image that you’re most familiar with, there’s a person underneath there. That was the first big discovery, that it was carefully honed, but it was artifice. 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. So once I discovered that that was a layer, I was finding out what that layer was and then getting underneath it. It was a long and ungainly process.
What did you do to prepare or train for the singing? It’s hard to do as it is, then to do someone else’s voice…
Michelle Williams: Yeah. Marilyn Monroe was a creation, and that creation took a lot of personal work, she also had a lot of teacher, trainers – they were more common then. Professionals who’d make these stars and help develop these talents. So I, as she was, was very lucky to be on this movie surrounded and supported by some great people. We worked on it everyday for a couple of weeks, because I’m not a singer, I have not sang since I was 10 years old (laughs). My trainer taught me about breathing, about how to deliver emotion on lines instead of just saying the words. So I had my coach and then I listened to Marilyn. She still comes up on my iPod all the time (laughs). And she was very influenced by Ella Fitzgerald as well so I listened to her a lot too. I had great support though, we rehearsed every day for a few weeks.
Do you have an early memory of Marilyn?
Michelle Williams: I grew up with a picture of her in my bedroom, sort of hanging over my bed, watching over me or something (laughs). It was a picture of her not as the icon, not as the sex symbol, but as this girl, just this ordinary girl with her arms out stretched and her head back, the sun is out and she’s laughing, and also she’s bare foot in the grass.
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