The critics have all but panned Andrew Dominik’s new film Blonde for its perceived exploitation of Marilyn Monroe’s reputation and character. However, Ana De Armas has steered through this controversy to earn acclaim for her performance as the troubled 50s icon. The question is, how did she manage to achieve such a feat?
A Controversial Film
It’s fair to say that Andrew Dominik’s latest has been a bit of a dud. Controversy began on the eve of the film’s release when the director made some edgy comments about Monroe and her movies in an interview with Sight & Sound. The film itself has been dismissed as something equating to misery porn, with a great deal of ire aimed at the movie’s depiction of Monroe. Of course, the film is based upon a fictional account of Monroe’s life in a 2000 novel of the same name, written by Joyce Carol Oates.
This notwithstanding, criticism surrounding Monroe’s depiction remains rife in the reviews published thus far. The character’s portrayal is somewhat reductive with a heavy emphasis on Monroe’s craving for a baby. And the film has been criticized for showing little interest in Monroe as a person. Dominik’s admission in the Sight & Sound article that he cares only about images ring true in this regard. Despite the lukewarm reception the film has received in the majority, Ana De Armas has been the sole shining light. But how did she achieve this feat?
A Team Effort
The work wasn’t De Armas’ alone. There was a whole team around her that frequently consulted ‘the bible’. ‘The bible’ is the 800-page anthology of photos, press clippings, and movie stills that were used to ensure that Monroe’s style and features were faithfully portrayed in the film. Andrew Dominik compiled this collection over the course of 10 years. This served an invaluable role in the crafting of Marilyn’s image in the movie.
The film’s stylists, costume designers, and make-up artists were tasked with translating these images into real life. Hair stylist Jaime Leigh McIntosh, for example, had to make five custom-made whigs for the De Armas. These needed to re-create Monroe’s widow’s peak hairline and truly reflect the blonde of Monroe’s locks. All the while still fitting De Armas’ head. McIntosh was required to dye the whigs multiple times and also needed to add depth to the roots of each. This served the purpose of giving a more realistic look to each one.
How Ana De Armas Mastered Monroe
De Armas’ preparation for the role was a long time in the making, as one may expect. It started whilst the actor was still filming Knives Out (2019). After days of filming on the set of Rhian Johnson’s murder mystery, De Armas would work on perfecting Monroe’s accent and mannerisms for her screen tests for the film. Once the role was secured and filming for Blonde began, she would often spend her time out of hours perfecting the choreography of key musical scenes. These scenes were recreations of famous moments from films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and thus precision was key.
Her preparation went far beyond the replication of physical attributes, however. De Armas lulled herself into an emotional state in which it was almost impossible to express anger, a state in which Monroe often apparently found herself. This helped the actor to build empathy with her, an important reason that her performance succeeded as it did. Because of the emotional intensity of playing the character, De Armas opted not to stay in character between takes, in the tradition of method acting. Despite this, though, the actor felt a deep-sense of loss once filming wrapped. It was time to let Marilyn go and the deep connection built was gone.
Ana De Armas put everything into this role emotionally and physically. She was certainly aided by a team of high-quality professionals who crafted some magnificent costumes and make-up effects. Certainly, though, De Armas deserves all the praise she gets.