Beyond the platinum blonde hair, the curvaceous body, the breathy voice and that oh-so-watchable walk, when it came to playing Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams discovered that it was the icon’s sense of humor she most wanted to capture.
“Her humor knocked me out,” says Williams, who dug deep to channel the more down-to-earth sides of the ultimate Hollywood sex symbol in the film “My Week With Marilyn" (opening tomorrow). “Her quick-wittedness, her abilities for verbal play and word games, and her ability to take a bad situation and, because of her intellect and her humor, spin it into something that was real and relatable. Like when her nude photos were published and the studio wanted her to deny that it was her, and they didn't want her to sign any of the pictures. And she would sign the nude photo of herself and say 'This isn't my best angle.'”
Williams says she could also relate to the troubled superstar’s determined, sometimes desperate, struggle to be appreciated more for her considerable talent than her more obvious and prodigious genetic gifts.“It seems to me that all that Marilyn Monroe really ever wanted was to be taken seriously as an actress, and she studied, she trained – harder than me,” says Williams, who herself has been gratified by the respect and honors from her peers for her own performances. “She never got the recognition that she deserved and craved, and I feel very lucky to experience some of that.”
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In fact. Williams explains, she’s most likely to be her own harshest critic – much like the Marilyn she depicts in the film. Her self-scrutiny reached new heights in her bid to breathe a sense of reality into the icon audiences think they know. “I put a lot of pressure on myself about that one, yeah,” she says. “I don’t handle [my own pressure] very well. I'm pretty hard on myself.”
Actor Don Murray, who was Monroe’s leading man in the 1956 film “Bus Stop,” recently presented Williams with the Hollywood Actress Award at the Hollywood Film Festival’s Hollywood Awards, revealed that the modern actress’ interpretation evoked strong memories of his classic co-star.
“What I noticed about Michelle's work in 'My Week With Marilyn' was that she created some moments that were so intimately familiar to me, because I spent 14 weeks with Marilyn and I had a lot of conversations with her,” Murray told the audience at the awards show. “She was sort of struggling with things in her own life when she was in love with Arthur Miller and she was very concerned about whether she could become an adequate wife to this great intellectual and this great playwright. And she had a conversation with me one day that began with, 'Don, do you think a leopard could change its spots?' And it was obvious that she was talking about whether she could become a satisfying wife for Arthur. And then she also said some things that were very, very funny. But you didn't know whether it was a sense of humor or it was her just stating a fact.”
“There's not one thing in that film that is not truthful,” Murray added. “The film was just a revelation. And Michelle's performance made me appreciate not only Michelle even more than I already did from her other films but made me appreciate Marilyn more.”
Williams says, awards aside, that kind of praise from those who knew Monroe personally is the true reward. “It means a lot to me. I did a Q&A recently and somebody stood up and said, 'I took classes with Marilyn. I was a member of the Actors Studio with Marilyn, and you got her.' Those are the best compliments.”
"My Week With Marilyn" opens everywhere Wednesday, November 23rd.