For more than ten years, Andrew Dominik had been trying to make a film about Marilyn Monroe.
The movie wouldn’t be a biopic but rather an in-depth exploration of the minds of Marilyn Monroe and Norma Jeane. The New Zealander kept seeing it crumble, but she couldn’t let it go. Once he met Ana de Armas, the movie, in his words, “came to life.”
The almost three-hour long epic, which is based on a Joyce Carol Oates work of biographical fiction, explores the public and private lives of the Hollywood icon from her troubled upbringing as Norma Jeane to her international stardom as Marilyn Monroe, as well as the relationships she had along the way, including her mother’s (Julianne Nicholson), Joe DiMaggio’s (Bobby Cannavale), and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody).
I wasn’t very aware of Marilyn. I was familiar with some of her movies, but for me it was a huge discovery and learning process, de Armas said. We wanted to honor her in the recreations where she was Marilyn, but I also had a lot of room to create the real woman underneath that character. It was about understanding and empathizing and connecting with her and her pain and her trauma. If you put aside the movie star she is, she’s just a woman, just like me. Same age. It was a project I knew I had to let myself open and go to places I knew were going to be uncomfortable and dark and vulnerable.
On August 4, 1962, the day after Monroe passed away at age 36 at her Los Angeles home, shooting got underway. It was an accident brought on only by a few delays. But it was also one of many instances where the director and his cast experienced a supernatural bond with the story they were telling. The movie does use actual places, such as the apartment she and her mother shared when she was a child and the house she passed away in, even if the story takes numerous liberties with the facts of her life in an effort to reveal the truth about her life.
It took on elements of being like a séance, Dominik said.
De Armas agreed that “there was something in the air” being in the same places Monroe had lived.
I wasn’t in character all the time. But I felt that. I was living that. I felt that heaviness and that weight in my shoulders. And I felt that sadness, de Armas said. She was all I thought about. She was all I dreamed about. She was all I talked about… It was beautiful.