Hip Pads, Prosthetic Chins, Dips in Sub-Zero Lakes: The Making of 'My Week With Marilyn'
Michelle Williams and director Simon Curtis tell THR what it took to bring the film that captures a week in life of Marilyn Monroe to the big screen.
Also, because of his postproduction schedule on Thor in London, Branagh arrived only two days before production started. This left little time for Taylor to fit the custom military uniforms Branagh needed for Olivier's role as the prince. Taylor found the one Olivier wore, but because of Branagh's broad shoulders, she had to track down a similar uniform from a costume house. She did, however, use braiding off the original, adding medals she made.
For Williams, the movie's toughest scene was one that required no costume at all: Monroe goes off with Clark (Eddie Redmayne) on a lark and goes for a nude swim. The setting is summertime, but it actually was late fall.
"We worried for weeks beforehand because it can be freezing cold in October," says cinematographer Ben Smithard. "It was an absolute nightmare."
When Parfitt saw a break in the English weather, they rushed to the location, where they had to do more 30 shots in four hours. "It was pretty scary," says Smithard. "We dressed the edge of the water so they could get in and out and wouldn't drown."
But there was no time to set up lighting for each shot, so they did most of the shoot in natural light, constantly worrying that they were losing their illumination.
"It was a horribly messy freezing rush," says Williams, "and it was supposed to be a beautiful summer day. Sometimes half of acting is ignoring the elements."
The health and safety supervisor told Curtis the actors could only be in the icy water for 70 seconds at a time. Tents and oxygen tanks stood by. "I'm a director who admires actors," says Curtis, "but I've never admired actors so much as those two going into that water."
Williams can't remember ever being that cold. "I'm pretty hearty; I'm from Montana. But that one … I just couldn't bounce back from it. I couldn't get my blood warm. I was frozen to the core."
At one point, her teeth were chattering, so they had Williams bite on a washcloth. "I thought I was going to break a tooth," she recalls.
Other things weren't as funny. As a low-budget project, they kept being bumped off the stages at Pinewood, which was also in demand from the likes of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, Hugo, War Horse and Captain America. At various times, they moved to Shepperton, Twickenham and Ealing studios.
Throughout the production, Williams fretted about the big production numbers she had to do as Monroe. "Talk about jumping off a cliff and finding your wings on the way down," she says. "I've never done anything like that. I'm really not a singer or a dancer, but I discovered a love for both."
The big opening number is a version of "Heat Wave," and a second is based on "That Old Black Magic," both choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and Denise Faye.
"She rehearsed every day for six weeks," says Parfitt. "She had a little dance to do, which was seemingly simple. She'd start the day doing it as a warm-up exercise for Marilyn's movement."
They waited to do the production numbers near the end of the shoot to give Williams extra time to prepare.
"The great thing about singing and dancing is it makes you be in the present," says Williams. "You're doing too many things to anticipate or judge or any of the stuff that is the death of the creative process."
Curtis believes the casting made the movie work, especially getting Williams and Branagh in the central roles. "There aren't too many actors in the world who could pull off those characters," says Curtis. "That was the biggest challenge, and I feel lucky I not only got those two actors, but they were both exactly the ages their characters were in 1956."
Williams loves that she could celebrate Monroe. "This isn't a biopic," she says. "Marilyn is just a character in somebody else's story. We didn't have a duty to tell her entire life, and thus our film is not a tragedy. It is a fairy tale come true, a confection. I didn't realize how funny it was until I saw it with an audience."
Williams sees Week With Marilyn, like Blue Valentine, as "another step on that road" back to the craft she loves. "I am going to keep walking in a straight line and not detouring," she says. "The whole thing felt like a giant growth spurt for me as an actor."
MAKEUP MAGIC: It took tricks to remake Williams and Branagh into Hollywood legends
As a movie with few visual effects, makeup was one of Marilyn's most important visual tools.
Each morning began with Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh spending three to four hours with the film's makeup artists. While Branagh was fitted with a prosthetic chin to achieve Olivier's square jaw and cleft chin, he wore a headset and listened to Olivier give a dramatic reading of the Bible. "The parting of the hair was razor sharp," says Branagh, "and the color had to be perfect and brilliant. Olivier had sort of musically constructed arched eyebrows. It all had to be minimalist, but took quite a bit of time."
Williams, meanwhile, spent hours with makeup designer Jenny Shircore, who placed the actress' wig each day and made up both her face and body. "What Jenny does is art," says Williams. "But art is never the same. Every day was slightly different, in a minuscule way. We're both slightly obsessive."
Still, there were days the details eluded them. So with a Sharpie pen, Williams wrote on the makeup mirror: "mole, teeth, tattoo" to remind them of Monroe's famous beauty mark; to put the dental appliance over Williams' crooked lower teeth; and to conceal the actress' small tattoo of a heart on her wrist. "At the end of the shoot, I embroidered a little cloth for Jenny," says Williams. "It said, 'Mole, teeth, tattoo.' "