‘I truly believe she was close’: star of new biopic sensed Marilyn Monroe on set

Director Andrew Dominik also says that scenes for the controversial Netflix release, filmed in the room where the iconic actor died were ‘like a seance’

Shooting Blonde – the new biopic about Marilyn Monroe – in the apartment and room the Hollywood icon died in was like a “séance”, its director has said.

Andrew Dominik’s film starring Ana de Armas is having its world premiere at Venice on Thursday night. The nearly three-hour epic is based on a biographical novel by Joyce Carol Oates and examines the public and private life of Monroe, from her troubled childhood as Norma Jeane Mortenson to her global stardom.

But the Netflix film, also starring Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller and Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio, has courted controversy for its graphic scenes, becoming the first movie ever made by the streamer to be rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America, meaning no one under the age of 17 is allowed to see the film in a theatre. Some of the shocking scenes adapted from the novel include a graphic depiction of sexual abuse.

“We started shooting the movie on the anniversary of [Marilyn’s] death,” Dominik told a press conference on Thursday. “It was not planned. We were shooting in the very apartment she lived in with her mother. The room she dies in is the room she died in. Her dust is everywhere in Los Angeles. It definitely took on elements of being like a seance.”

De Armas, who was born in Cuba and worked with a dialect coach for a year to prepare for the role, said “so many things” happened to the cast and crew during the shoot. “I truly believe she was very close to us, she was with us. All of us felt so much respect and responsibility to do good to her and honour her … She was all I thought about, she was all I dreamed about, she was all I could talk about.”

The actor – who was clearly emotional at times – said being in Monroe’s house evoked “a very strong sensation, there was something in the air. I think she was approving of what we were doing”. The movie, she added, “changed my life”.

“If you put aside the movie star she was, she’s just a woman like me,” De Armas continued. “Same age, also an actress in the industry. I had to go to places I knew were going to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. I think that’s where I found the connection with this person … I just wanted to find her emotional truth.”

Brody said the film was “good for [Monroe’s] legacy and good for us as a community”.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Marilyn Monroe … The fact that she’s so revered and loved by men and women alike, and yet her inner struggle and her sadness, and all the unresolved traumatic moments in her life never left her, it’s almost criminal,” he said.

On Wednesday, Casey Affleck – who is in Venice with his latest film Dreamin’ Wild and worked with Dominik on his 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James – also heaped praise on Blonde. “I’ve seen Blonde and it’s incredible,” he told the press. “It’s an amazing, beautiful film.”


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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