‘I Admire Monroe More Now’: Ana de Armas

I was so happy, but that was not the only audition I had to do, she says
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe

What was it like the first time you transformed into Marilyn Monroe?

The first time I turned into Monroe was for the audition. I had to do the first date scene with Bobby (Cannavale), who plays her second husband Joe DiMaggio, at the restaurant. I only had a week to prepare, so there was no time to get the accent right. I just put on some makeup and a blonde wig just to have the sense of Monroe for the scene. My hair is very dark, but I wanted to be as close to her as I possibly could.

What was your reaction when you found out you had landed the role?

I was so happy, but that was not the only audition I had to do. It was a long process of tests with wardrobe and different cameras. Then the voice coach got involved and everything escalated. We just made it better, until everyone was convinced. The experience of playing this character will stay 
with me forever.

Your resemblance to Monroe in the film is uncanny. Tell us about that.

It was a lot of work. Looking like her took about three hours every day. The hair, makeup and the wardrobe team, with as many as 100 costume changes, did an amazing job.

Which Monroe look was your favourite to recreate?

I loved everything about The Seven Year Itch (1955) scenes. That look and everything about it was just incredible.

How did you pull off the actor’s famously aspirated voice?

The voice was very important. We worked so hard on getting it close to Monroe’s, but, for me, it was never enough because I’m a perfectionist. Also, this was not an impression, but about finding the truth in the voice rather than imitating all the aspects of the accent and affectations. It was hard.

Given that Marilyn Monroe was a pseudonym for Norma Jean, did you approach the two characters differently? 

They are both the same person, but they are separate in the way that they kind of need each other. For most of this movie, Jean is more present. Then, Monroe takes over. It was really a case of finding the balance between the two.

How did you go about switching between the two? 

I felt the pressure and the importance of honouring Monroe, but it was more important for me to find who Jean was. I wanted to find her emotional truth, something that has never been seen before. It was challenging, but also interesting to work with these two personas. It’s hard to explain the process, but 
I tried to be connected to both emotionally at all times. It wasn’t a conscious decision about when it was going to be more Monroe or more Jean.  It just happened.

Did you connect more with Monroe or Jean?

For me, it is always about understanding and empathising with my character, and I did that with both and connected with her pain and trauma. If you put aside the movie star that she was, she was just a woman, just like me––the same age (34), also an actress. This was a project for which I knew I had to go to uncomfortable, dark and vulnerable places, but that is where I found the connection with this person.
There is so much to reference when it comes to Monroe. Where did you start?

I actually wasn’t very aware of her before. I was familiar with some of her movies, but that’s all. So it was a learning process, starting with the book (of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates). I worked with Andrew Dominik (director and writer) for months, just getting to know her. The majority of the film is about intimate moments that are not caught on camera. I also had room to create the real woman underneath that character, and I admire her now more than ever. Marilyn Monroe was truly a beautiful soul. She was magical.

You have said you felt the actor’s presence while making the film. Is that true? Do you think she approved of the film?

I did feel she was with me, with all of us. Yes, I think she approved of what we were doing.

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