In case you haven’t noticed, this is Harvey Weinstein’s time of year. All year long, he has been hoarding his awards-worthy jewels, and now they’re finally being unveiled to the public. First up are ‘The Artist’ (a leading contender for Best Picture despite the fact that it’s silent) and ‘My Week With Marilyn,’ which appears destined to earn Michelle Williams her third Oscar nomination.
Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe lives on as an enchanting enigma. She was the most famous woman in the world, and perhaps the greatest movie star we’ll ever know, but her true nature remained forever out of reach. ‘My Week With Marilyn,’ directed by TV veteran Simon Curtis and based on a pair of memoirs by Colin Clark, offers a new vantage point to consider where Norma Jeane Baker ended and Miss Monroe began. The film takes place in 1956 and follows the adventures of young Clark (Eddie Redmayne) on the London set of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl,’ as he goes from glorified gofer to superstar go-between, skinny-dipping with Marilyn and helping her cope with the vicissitudes of fame and the disdain of her director and co-star, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
Weinstein knows that the first step on the road to that podium is getting people to see the movie, so he took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with Moviefone about his love for Marilyn Monroe, his admiration for Michelle Williams, and his strategy for dominating awards season.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did the project get off the ground?
Simon Curtis, who is the director, came to the company and said, “I want to make a movie of these books.” I had read the books, you know, for fun, but I never actually thought about them as a movie. But he and Adrien Hodges had a script written and it was quite good. It was charming and fun.
I think the biggest misconception about this movie is that it’s supposed to be something other than this entertainment, this slice of life. Simultaneously, Andrew Dominik [‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’] was working with Scarlett Johansson at first, and then later with Naomi Watts, on a script called ‘Blonde,” [adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ fictional Marilyn memoir]. So somehow people get them mixed up a little bit. They didn’t make ‘Blonde,’ and ‘My Week With Marilyn’ is a snapshot: it’s funny, it’s charming, it’s entertaining, it’s a fairytale. It’s a boy who works on the set of a movie, 23 years old. She’s 30. And through an argument she has with her husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, this guy gets very close to her.
It’s kissing, skinny-dipping — everything you want a week with Marilyn to be. You laugh. That’s the misconception that I would love to clear up for everyone. This is just charming and fun, and today I’m just in a great mood. The reviews have been amazing. I mean, it’s just been a gift. And the biggest gift is Michelle Williams.
Can you tell me a little bit about Michelle Williams’ process, her transformation into Marilyn?
Well, you look like at her and you go, “Okay, she looks like Jean Seberg from ‘Breathless.'” You go, ‘How is Jean Seberg going to turn into Marilyn Monroe?’ I think Jean Seberg is a knockout myself — I’m much more of a Jean Seberg guy than a Marilyn Monroe guy — but Marilyn’s hot. Michelle practiced the wiggle, she practiced the walk, balanced things on her head. She had all the physical movements right.
Was this the first time you ever had to ask an actress to gain weight for a role?
She actually didn’t gain the weight. Occasionally we added something to her butt, but that was about it. She’s got a great figure and up on top, or whatever, she’s in a good place [Laughs]. Anyhow, she met the physical demands of the role and she could sing, which we didn’t know, and she could dance. Thank God she could, ’cause she dances four times, she sings four times in the movie. And that’s all her — she rehearses and she does it. She reads. She’s like a school kid. You see her with books, you go, “Oh my god, we’re back in college.” It was like the smart girl walked into the room. When she takes her glasses off, she turns into Michelle Williams, but she’s got her glasses on most of the time, her nose in a book. She’s reading the biography of Arthur Miller, the first interview with Marilyn, Norman Mailer, looking at pictures — she immersed herself.
Marilyn loved to be photographed with a book. She wanted to be taken seriously as an intellectual and that was sort of the tragedy of her life. She was the most famous actress in the world, and yet she felt like a failure.
Michelle treated Marilyn as a very serious role. Then I took her to see the movie during the making of ‘Oz’ in Detroit, because she had never seen it with an audience. “Just sit down, bring your girlfriends, hang out, whatever.” The movie started and she couldn’t believe how funny the movie was, how people were laughing — and she knew we were trying for that. I mean, she walks into a bar and says, ‘Buy a girl a drink?’ The place explodes. Marilyn Monroe in a pub in England going, ‘Buy a girl a drink?’ It’s like ‘Casablanca,’ you know? The line is so iconic. So it was reversed. Marilyn Monroe was kind of a flirtatious girl wanting to be serious. Michelle WIlliams is a totally serious, devoted-to-her-craft kind of actress, who had a good time, even though it was tough as hell to make this movie.
What was she like on set? Was this your chance to finally make a movie with Marilyn?
The opposite. She was the most cooperative person. I think if you would’ve said, “Here’s a broom, we’re short one cleaner today,” she would’ve done that. She would’ve polished the dressing room, made you lunch. She’s a mommy too, on top of everything else, so she’s good with white bread and sandwiches.
When people talk about Marilyn, often the actual movies get lost. What’s your favorite of her movies?
Listen, I know it’s a cliche, but it has to be ‘Some Like It Hot.’ It’s the most artistic movie. The “nobody’s perfect” line at the end of that film is just genius. Then from there I go to ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ not everybody’s second choice, and I do like ‘River of No Return,’ because I like Preminger and I liked her in that movie. I like a lot of things in ‘Seven Year Itch,’ but it was really stage-y for me. It was the least cinematic Billy Wilder movie I had ever seen. But her movies are great — she comes on screen, she’s amazing. She’s a shot of energy.
Do you take issue with the idea that she was a tragic figure?
In our movie, she’s not. She’s smart, she’s funny. And Michelle said that in her research she discovered that Norma Jeane created the Marilyn Monroe character for herself. This was a character that was created. She didn’t walk around at 14 years old with that voice or that wiggle, you know? She was Norma Jeane her whole life. You see the calculation of her character, and you also see her sweetness too. You see what a good girl she was and why guys would be attracted to her. You just say to yourself, “Wow, there’s a damsel in distress, I want to be a knight in shining armor, I want to rescue that woman.” And then when you rescue her, you realize she’s just as smart as anybody else. Or smarter.
It’s an act.
It is. Michelle really plays three roles. She plays Norma Jeane, she plays Marilyn, and then she plays Elsie, the showgirl in the movie that they’re making.
In the movie, Laurence Olivier calls her the “stupidest, most self-indulgent tart I’ve ever come across.” What was he missing?
The movie details a huge battle, which was the method acting that Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando and James Dean and Paul Newman were all beginning to get into at the time versus the classically trained acting [favored by Olivier]. She wanted the method: “Please explain it to me. I want to live in it. I want to believe in it and make it about truth. I want to find the truth in the scene.” And Olivier could care less about the truth: “Get on with it, you lazy cow.” So the funniest scenes in the movie are Kenneth Branaugh as Olivier saying things like, “Get on with it! Just be sexy! That’s what you do.” It’s just funny — bitchy or whatever. I don’t know if we can say this, but there’s a great scene where he says, “Fuck!” and Marilyn goes, “I didn’t know they had that word in England too!” So you clearly see how witty she is. Olivier thought she was going to fall madly in love with him, she didn’t, and as a result he was left with a battle of wits.
You mentioned reviews earlier. A lot of people these days argue that reviews are irrelevant, but how important are they to you as someone who makes movies for adults?
I think they’re extremely important. The way that this movie is received, especially today, will propel its box office and get it in front of audiences. I did an interview today where they asked, How come you don’t do action movies? If I did, I wouldn’t have to depend on journalists or reviews, but my movies’ special effects are words. Therefore we live and die by the sword of words. Even if you as a journalist dislike something but you say, “I loved Michelle Williams” or “I loved Kenneth Branagh” — whatever it is — you give the audience a reason to see the movie. I can honestly tell the viewers if they like ‘The King’s Speech,’ they’re not going to be disappointed by this movie. They’re really going to have a good time. This is even more of a romp than ‘The King’s Speech.’ This is pure fun. It’s sexy, it’s funny, you’ll have a great time, and it’s smart.
Do you have any thoughts as to why there are so few people making movies for adults these days?
It’s hard to market a movie when you’re at the mercy of critics and journalists. People want to see big, escapist fare. They don’t want to be challenged to think. It’s a tightrope act. There are plenty of people who’d rather not be in the circus; they’d rather be doing the easier thing. Very often, I’m in the middle of it going, “Oh my god, why didn’t I just do a romantic comedy? It’s be so much easier!”
You’re known for your skills in award season. After the Academy announced its new rules limiting campaign events, I jokingly asked someone there, “Is this the Harvey rule?” And he said, “They’re all Harvey rules.”
[Laughs.] Look, I’ve always loved politics. World politics, national politics, and I’ve always been involved in presidential elections. So organization just came naturally to me. And if I’ve learned one thing, just by watching the Republican Convention — you’ve got to have a candidate. You have to have somebody or a movie that talks to people, and if you do, there’s only one thing you can do to win an Oscar: Get all of the Oscar people to see the movie. If they don’t see the movie, they can’t vote for your movie. It’s simple as one thing to do. People think I have a magic wand, but it’s really the movies. And you insult the Academy’s intelligence by thinking that you can campaign in any way. It’s really just bringing it prominence and making you want to see ‘Marilyn,’ or ‘The Iron Lady,’ or ‘The Artist.’ Making you want to see ‘W.E.’ Or ‘Coriolanus.’
Michelle and Meryl Streep [in ‘The Iron Lady’] are both considered favorites for Best Actress. Does that create stickiness when you have two people going for the same award?
No. First of all, at least with the Golden Globes, thank God, they’re both in different categories: Comedy/Musical and Drama. At least for the first round, there’s no competition. Meryl’s seasoned at this, and believe it or not, if Michelle gets nominated at the Oscars, it’ll be her third. Here, I’ll tell you an Oscar story. I have a great director who’s the most self-effacing actor. In any universe, Ralph Fiennes’ performance in ‘Coriolanus’ is a good as anybody’s performance out there. It is just a great performance, but he’d rather campaign for Vanessa Redgrave or Gerard Butler.
That’s my Oscar problem of the day.
Michael Hogan is the executive entertainment editor of The Huffington Post Media Group. A version of this article was published simultaneously on The Huffington Post.
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