Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams talk about ‘Marilyn’
We Love Cult, 10 January 2012
Last night I attended a screening of My Week with Marilyn at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Following the film we were treated to a panel featuring the film’s stars, Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh.
'My Week with Marilyn' is based on the diaries of documentary filmmaker Colin Clark during the filming of 'The Prince and the Showgirl'. Clark was acting legend Laurence Olivier’s assistant at the time, and gives an account of the tumultuous relationship between Olivier and actress Marilyn Monroe during the making of the film. The film stars Williams, Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, and Dame Judi Dench.
Marilyn is a touching film that gives a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking and the lives of the actors and crew who have “run away to join the circus”. The film also gives a glimpse into the life of Marilyn Monroe as Colin Clark saw her.
During the panel, it was evident that both Branagh and Williams felt a strong connection and responsibility to the icons that they portrayed.
“Sir Laurence Olivier is a great inspiration to me. [Making this film] was so exciting. I feel honored and privileged to portray him.” - Kenneth Branagh
Though she arrived a little late, Michelle Williams apologized before sharing her thoughts on playing the title role. “It’s a responsibility to play someone who the audience is already familiar with.”
Williams then went on to discuss the process in which she prepared for such a monumental challenge, utilizing many resources to help her get into character. The script initiated her preparation, but she also researched vigorously and made no assumptions about who Marilyn Monroe was in an effort to keep an open mind. “I tried to let her guide me.”
Shooting at the actual locations also helped Williams get into character. “The studio, the house were tangible things I could hold on to.”
Michelle Williams wasn’t the only one who used multiple resources to get into character.
While filming Thor with Sir Anthony Hopkins, Branagh used the opportunity to pick Hopkins’ brain about Olivier. Hopkins worked for Sir Laurence Olivier for 10 years as his understudy when he was in his 20's and knew the man well. This insight proved vital for Branagh’s research. Both he and Williams agreed that it was quite difficult figuring out the real person, despite so much information, since much of what they found contradicted itself.
In fact, Branagh said: “It turned us into detectives, trying to find the real person.”
When asked about the tense relationship between Olivier and Monroe, Kenneth Branagh felt that it was born out of the circumstance.
“The two could’ve been a dynamite screen pairing if they had worked on a different film, or at least one he (Olivier) didn’t direct.”
After the moderator finished asking her questions, she opened the floor to the audience. The first person asked if they “found it difficult to let go of their characters”.
“In some ways it felt like I was absorbing her. I try to find ways to keep her in my mind. I turned 30 while filming this film, and feel like I transitioned from being a girl to becoming a woman.” - Michelle Williams
The source material, Colin Clark’s book of the same name, has received criticism for its veracity ever since it was published in 2000. The last question was in regards to that, with an audience member asking if either Williams or Branagh believed the story to be true. Both actors were diplomatic in their answers.
“I found in doing my research that there were so many contradictory things about her. To me there seemed to be some things that felt funny. Marilyn never mentioned Colin, nor would she have a reason to.” - Michelle Williams
“I believe that when a person is befriended by a famous person who appeared to have some sadness in them, you may feel the need to try to take that away from them, and say the things (in the diaries) you wished you could’ve said to them in life.” - Kenneth Branagh