Marilyn’s untold story
It took a little time and a lot of effort for the stars to align in My Week with Marilyn, write John Carucci and Steven Rea
DIRECTOR Simon Curtis says he spent the better part of a year – including countless emails, phone calls and a couple of trans- Atlantic meetings – to persuade Michelle Williams she was the right actor to play Marilyn Monroe.
And it probably took that long for Williams to persuade herself.
‘‘ She was quite understandably and quite appropriately nervous,’’ the British filmmaker said.
‘‘ She obviously had a hunch about it, but she obviously needed reassurance that I wasn’t a complete buffoon, and I hope I did reassure her – but maybe I didn’t.’’
Although on- set flare- ups between Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier ( played by Kenneth Branagh) are a big part of
My Week With Marilyn, the plot pivots around – and is based on the memoirs of – a young British film assistant’s ‘‘ amour fou’’ with the platinum blonde.
Colin Clark, a gofer working his first back- lot job, apparently spent seven days in the intimate company of the actress in 1957, when Monroe and Olivier had come together to make the film The Prince and
the Showgirl, which Olivier also directed. Clark’s books The Prince, the Showgirl
and Me and My Week With Marilyn offer giddy accounts of a naive 23- year- old just out of university and his improbable relationship with a somewhat less naive, but by no means self- assured, mega movie star.
‘‘ That’s how this project began. It came from me falling in love with the books, the Colin Clark diaries,’’ Curtis said.
‘‘ I didn’t come to it as a big Marilyn obsessive. I came to it as an older guy looking back to a young man’s first job, and this sort of golden ticket he got to be inside the making of this amazing, complicated film.
‘‘ And then the extra- special golden ticket of gaining this unique insight into Marilyn at the height of her powers.’’
In Curtis’s view, getting the right actor to portray Olivier was nearly as key as getting the right Monroe.
‘‘ The truth is Kenneth wasn’t available because he was doing Thor,’’ said the director, referring to the Marvel Comics adventure about Norse gods that Branagh directed.
‘‘ But then our dates shifted – I can’t exactly remember how or why – and suddenly it seemed that even though he was still doing Thor post- production, he was available for a limited time.
‘‘ And I was so pleased, because he obviously brings an aura with him, as an actor and a director who has directed himself, you know, it just resonates so wonderfully with Olivier’s career.’’
Long before Branagh stepped into the role of Olivier, there already were strong parallels between them.
Both are synonymous with film adaptations of William Shakespeare, delivering lines with implausible realism and earning accolades for their troubles.
Each starred in and directed their own successful adaptations of Hamlet, and
Henry V, that earned Oscar nods for their work on both sides of the camera. ( Olivier received an honorary award that included directing the film).
With such similarities, it seems fitting that Branagh earned Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Oscar, BAFTA, and Critics Choice nominations for his performance as the legendary actor.
‘‘ He was a master of his craft, and at the same time very vulnerable,’’ Branagh said of Olivier.
‘‘ When they were making these films, Olivier saw it as a means to reinvigorate his career, especially in the States.
‘‘ But he found it a challenge to work with Marilyn [ Monroe], whom he considered less than professional.’’
Olivier eventually lightened up to Monroe, admitting she was wonderful in the film.
But Branagh said Williams was wonderful to work with from the start.
‘‘ Before we ever started filming, she learned everything she could about Marilyn and played her flawlessly.
‘‘ After some time you live the character and stop playing it,’’ he said.