Becoming Marilyn

Article excerpt

Byline: Ramin Setoodeh

How Michelle Williams wiggled and wept her way into the soul of hollywood's greatest icon.

For Michelle Williams, playing Marilyn Monroe in the new film My Week With Marilyn was like building a house. She had to start with the foundation, watching Monroe movies nonstop. She devoured Monroe's autobiography and letters. She downloaded her interviews from iTunes--The Voice of Marilyn Monroe, volumes 1 and 2--and listened to her speak for months on her iPod. "So many bits and pieces," Williams says. "Just a lot of little discoveries that added up to a person." And then there is that wiggle, which she practiced by tying a belt around her knees. "Her head is up," Williams says, describing the star's famous strut. "It's like a balloon is attached to her breast bone, her back is arched, almost like she's offering--I hate to get graphic--sex from behind. There's a tilt in her rump. She's making an entrance and making an exit."

Even when she left, Monroe never really departed. It has been 50 years since Monroe died of a drug overdose, and she's just as pervasive as she was in her prime: the biographies, the museum tribute, the auctions of her memorabilia (one of her green dresses from River of No Return just fetched $504,000). "Naked Marilyn Monroe Picture Expected to Sell for Thousands," screamed a recent Telegraph story. "Because she died at an early age, she's forever preserved in our minds as a vibrant and young woman," says Darren Julien, the president of Julien's Auctions, which has seen a significant spike in the value of Monroe merchandise in the last decade. What fans have been missing, however, is the definitive biopic. "I've never seen a good movie made of her," says Bert Stern, who famously photographed Monroe weeks before her death. "She had a very special quality that's hard to capture on film. It's not easy being Marilyn Monroe."

Williams read the screenplay and decided she wanted to do it, but she was scared. "I was waking up in cold sweats for six months in anticipation of it," Williams says. The film's director, Simon Curtis, acknowledges the huge risk in playing such a well-known icon: "I knew it could go terribly wrong," he says. "But when I watched Michelle on the monitor, I thought, My God, she's doing it!"

My Week With Marilyn isn't Monroe's full life story. In 1956, at the height of her popularity, Monroe went to England to make a film, The Prince and the Showgirl, with Sir Laurence Olivier. He was thrilled to work with such a fox, but when she arrived, she drove him mad. "She was late and we used to sit and moan about her," says Vera Day, who played one of Monroe's onscreen pals. "She was very difficult." My Week With Marilyn chronicles the tumultuous shoot, made all the more disruptive by her affair with an assistant.

Williams is the first to admit she looks nothing like Monroe. "I would study my face in the mirror over and over again," she says. …