Movie News

CS Video: Michelle Williams on My Week with Marilyn

Source: Edward Douglas
November 21, 2011

Actress Michelle Williams is one of those rare child actors who's only gotten better in her chosen profession as she's reached her 30s. Having started acting in her early teens and done all sorts of odds and ends including a role on "Dawson's Creek" and a couple of horror movies, she's made the transition from indie darling to bonafide starlet in a smooth and natural way. In 2006, she was nominated for her first Oscar for her supporting performance in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and last year, her dramatic role in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine scored her a second nod.

Now, she stars in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn, playing the iconic '50s actress Marilyn Monroe, a performance that's likely to get Williams her third Oscar nomination, and who knows? Maybe this year she'll actually win.

As the title suggests, the film covers a week in Marilyn's life as she traveled to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl with actor/director Sir Laurence Olivier (played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh). It's based on the memoirs of Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) who was working on the movie as a gopher and ended up befriending the starlet after she reached a point where she wasn't sure who she could trust anymore. had a chance to sit down with Ms. Williams briefly while she was in New York promoting the movie and in the video interview below, she spoke about:

* Why she decided to do this Marilyn movie and how she purposely didn't watch any other portrayals of the actress
* Whether she had ever done any sort of Marilyn impression before getting the role
* The different layers of the movie and similarities to the actors' own lives
* Whether she grew to understand the actress by playing her
* If she liked Marilyn more or less after embodying the persona
* How she's been mixing humor in with drama in recent movies
* Doing a big Oz-inspired fantasy epic with Sam Raimi

As an added bonus, we have an exclusive interview with Williams' co-star Eddie Redmayne, who plays Colin Clark, the young man through whose eyes we enter Marilyn's world.

Redmayne is considered by many to be one of the more promising young British actors, having been effortlessly bouncing between stage and screen in recent years. Playing Clark in My Week with Marilyn is quite a breakthrough for the 29 year old, since he's mainly been part of ensemble casts or played leads in lower profile indies, but he's definitely following Williams' footsteps in getting bigger roles including one in Tom Hooper's Les Misérables. Is this your first time at the New York Film Festival?
Eddie Redmayne:
It is and I'm one interview in so be kind with me.

CS: It's kind of weird having a movie at the New York Film Festival, which hasn't been at Venice or Toronto.
I know, I know.

CS: But you were there on Sunday so you must have seen the big mob of critics and journalists wanting to see your movie?
Yeah, it was kind of exciting, and there was something for me that was so wonderfully cyclical that I was doing a play here when I first read this script. I met Michelle in New York so it was nice and wonderful when it all came full circle. To be premiering it here was really fun.

CS: You've been bouncing back and forth a lot, where we'll see you in a movie and then you'll be on stage in Broadway or London. Is there any long-term goal to focus on one or the other?
Not at all, mate. People often say, "Which do you prefer?" and I f*cking love both, and I think one informs the other. There's a snobbery where people go, "Oh, well, you have to go back to theater to check your real muscles," whereas I started off doing theater and when I got into film, I didn't train and I had no idea what I was doing, and so it was definitely trial by error, learning from mistakes over the first few years and continuing, but it's interesting that when I got into film, I didn't do theater for four years, and when I went back to stage, it was actually the film experience that really helped the theater work, I felt, as far as when a camera's here, it sees everything so anything histrionic appears ridiculous. It's interesting actually that both help each other and as far as life experience, they couldn't be more different, so they kind of feed off each other.

CS: Had you worked with Simon before, either on stage or on television?
No, I hadn't. I did this play "Red" which subbed at the Donmar and Simon was doing a play after that actually called "Serenading Louie," so I met him there socially but I had never worked with him.

CS: What is it about Colin that interested you? He has an interesting story but had you already read the books he wrote?
I hadn't. When I read it, the first thing I knew about Colin was his family, because in England, his brother was a famous politician. His father was this preeminent art historian and that's what I studied at university, so I knew of members of his family but not of him. So when I started reading this book, in theory, this guy is a stereotype of someone who is brought up with privilege, but actually his father was hanging out with Olivier and Margot Fonteyn and Vivian Leigh and was a complete Bohemian, so they lived in this castle, but it wasn't like old money. He went to these posh schools but he wasn't an aristocrat so he never really fit in at school so everyone there went to the Army, he went to the Air Force. Once he left there, he went to become a zookeeper for six months just because he wanted to. What I found interesting was that he wanted to make his own path despite privilege, and that was interesting to me, finding his own way through things. Also, that same thing on a film set, when you're a runner--despite the fact that his Godmother was Vivian Leigh--he is the lowest of the low on the set, so there's a constant transition and I found all those aspects interesting.

CS: You're one of the people in the cast who doesn't have to portray someone who is very well known from having been seen on camera and people have an impression what they think of them. Did that make it easier or harder to find the character?
Well, I'll tell you what. I thought it was easier until Colin's widow and son and Colin's twin sister arrived on set, and I hadn't realized they were coming. They were absolutely lovely, but it does give you license to make the character yours. I saw photos and obviously the book itself is a great resource. My job was certainly easier than Kenneth and Michelle's, but in some ways, what the real challenge was that this guy is the cipher through which you see these people. He's surrounded by incredibly charismatic people but he's just doing his job, so trying to find a way that the audience we were him rather than finding him spoiled and obnoxious.

CS: I didn't think that at all and I think it's actually good we get to spend time with Colin before Mairlyn shows up. Redmayne: Exactly, yeah. Well, that's good. Thank you.

CS: What was your connection to Marilyn Monroe (if any) before this? People either have absolutely no interest or knowledge of her or they're completely in love and obsessed with her.
I've got to say that I was ignorant. I'm one of the worst watched film actors around (Note: I think he means that he's a film actor that doesn't watch a lot of movies.) and this gave me the greatest excuse to watch her movies and not only that, but realizing how ignorant I was of her and how my misjudgment of who she was as an actress - I hadn't realized how extraordinary she was. I knew she was beautiful and iconic but in the same way I hadn't seen James Dean's films so it catalyzed me really watching a lot of really wonderful films and certainly watching "The Prince and the Showgirl" and seeing the effortless quality that she brings to Elsie and then try to reconcile that with all the stories you were hearing. It was an amazing thing to witness. There's no fluke. She makes it look so easy and one assumes it's just natural but she was clearly an incredibly hard worker.

CS: She was also one of the first actresses to start the thing where celebrities got idolized in that sense, where they're put on a pedestal and became iconic images. What was your first scene with Michelle as a character? Was she trying to keep her as Marilyn a bit hidden from the rest of the cast as to create more of an impact or surprise when you first see her?
Actually, the first scene we shot was her and Vivian Leigh and Olivier and Arthur Miller at the Parkside House, having a press conference outside that house with Toby Jones playing the press guy. I think that or the actual press conference was the first scene. One of the most amazing things about working on that film was to sit in a make-up chair and have my hair combed and that was it, while next to me was watching Michelle and Kenneth arrive in the morning and both go through their processes, starting to look one way and then gradually this thing would arrive. It was an amazing and intricate process both of them as to how these characters were embodied, so you would see all the different moments. And then suddenly, she'd be walking down a corridor in Pinewood, tottering in this extraordinary hourglass figure and she had arrived. Certainly that first time she arrived on set, the effect it had on everyone...

CS: I wondered about that because the shots of everyone watching Marilyn perform, it's acting but it also must come a lot from being impressed by what Michelle is doing.
Yeah, yeah, we were just so lucky with this film because so much of the film was shot... like Parkside was the real house, the studio we shot in, her dressing room was her dressing room. There were just so many aspects of it that really did a lot of the work for us.

CS: Had you had a chance to work at Pinewood before this? You were working at Pinewood but an older version of it.
Have I worked at Pinewood? I have worked at Pinewood. I think I shot a bit of "The Golden Age," the "Elizabeth" sequel there, and I've been there in bits over the years, but it was lovely that moment when I drive through Pinewood and we shot on a Sunday and they had all these people... one of the great things about shooting that film was actually shooting at Pinewood, while at the same time as in our studio, you had "Marilyn," next door you had "Pirates of the Caribbean" and next door to that, you had "Hugo Cabret" so walking down that long corridor which you Michelle and I walked down at the end, there were members of "Pirates" and then a couple French (people)...

CS: It sounds like a really good time 'cause I always got the impression that Pinewood always had one big production taking over the whole studio.
No, I was there recently and they build this huge castle for the Snow White film I assume, and that is what is amazing about it, when it feels like old school filmmaking. There are all these completely different projects going on simultaneously and people who live and breathe that world have worked generations and generations on the technical side and it's passed apprenticeship through families. That felt kind of special.

CS: Did you get a chance to meet anyone in the crew who was at Pinewood during the time when "The Prince and the Showgirl" was shooting there?
We did. We met a lady whose name I've forgotten who was the script supervisor. She's not still working but she came and watched for a day and it was an amazing thing to feel she was in the same studio she'd been in and watching Michelle recreate "The Prince and the Showgirl" scene. In the same way, a friend of a friend knew a lady who worked with Toby Jones' character in the press department. It was interesting to hear them talk about Colin and there's a question mark, because some people question whether this was true or this was a fantasy, and she was absolutely convinced that he was a charmer and that he did run around set and everyone liked him or was buttered up by him and she thought it was completely feasible.

CS: How did you and Michelle work on developing the relationship between your characters? It's really one of the most magical parts of the movie how this relationship builds. For anyone else, it would be a fantasy to be on set as a runner and become best friends with the actress, so how did you and Michelle establish that?
That's a really good question. There wasn't a specific technique or way. I felt that the narrative of the story does so much of the work for him, and also, as I say, sat there in the make-up chair each morning watching these two phenomenal actors getting into character. You have the stuff that you can draw on that is real, but it was also about the stages of that relationship, and one thing I was really keen for and spoke at length with Simon was this idea of him observing. So much of this film is his sensitivity to witnessing situations, and that's the extraordinary paradox I suppose of what a runner is that they're the lowest of the low on the set, and yet, they have more access to that world and to people of high status than anyone else. They get to see behind the closed doors, 'cause they're getting the actors from their trailers, so the idea of him observing and being still and really try to soak in, sponge up, both for his own sense of excitement working on a film set for the first time, but also his sensitivity, so that was important.

CS: So you're going back to the Donmar to do Shakespeare. Are they actually closing the Donmar?
No, Michael Grandage who has run it since ten years ago, since Sam Mendes left ten years ago--and Michael's done some amazing things there--he is leaving. Donmar will remain. A director called Josie Rourke is taking over, but it's his last production there, so what I start in about a week.

CS: Do you have any other movies you might have lined up for next year?
I just finished a mini-series actually called "Birdsong" with Clémence Poésy and it's a huge British novel about the first World War, so it has romance and an epic World War I story, which Working Title made, so that's coming out here, I don't know, next year maybe.

CS: I thought they were going to make a movie of that at one point.
They've been trying for ages, but fundamentally, the story, particularly the love story aspect of it, is this clandestine thing that happens over these tiny increments so actually doing that and the war story, I think in two hours worth of a film, they eventually found impossible, so they've put it into two 90 minute (segments) so that's sort of what I have coming out next I suppose.

My Week with Marilyn opens in select cities on Wednesday, November 23, then in more cities on Friday, November 25.

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