LOS ANGELES – Blonde, a biopic of iconic Hollywood bombshell Marilyn Monroe, is a fictionalised account that reimagines everything from her troubled childhood to her rise to stardom to headline-grabbing romances.
But the disclaimer that the film takes some poetic licence with the truth could not stop the backlash when the trailer was released in July.
The sticking point for Monroe fans was not that Cuban actress Ana de Armas does not look the part, but rather how she sounds because, despite spending nine months working with a voice coach, the star’s heavy Spanish accent still comes through.
Yet, the 34-year-old says her job was not to imitate Monroe, but to get to “the emotional truth” of who she really was, and that is the point of the film, which is adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates.
Speaking at the Los Angeles premiere of Blonde, which premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, de Armas says she once had the same stereotypical ideas about Monroe that most people have.
“I knew what we all know about Marilyn Monroe, but the more I learnt, I just wanted to peel all the layers and find out who was underneath,” says the star, who appeared in the murder mystery Knives Out (2019) and was a Bond girl in No Time To Die (2021).
And what Monroe, whose real name was Norma Jeane Mortenson, went through before dying of a drug overdose at age 36 was “heartbreaking”, adds de Armas. “It was easy for me to see her trauma and pain, and understand what she went through. It was hard not to relate to the woman in the story, and feel heartbroken and moved by it.”
De Armas admits that getting Monroe’s voice right was one of the biggest challenges for her. She says: “The voice was work that I could have had two more years of training and preparation for, and I would still have never felt ready because I’m a perfectionist.”
But, at the same time, she felt that capturing Monroe’s voice was about more than just nailing the accent.
“To me, someone’s voice has a lot of qualities in it – it’s not just an accent or the pitch or whatever,” says de Armas.
“It says so much, especially with her. Her voice had so many affectations and it’s so emotional all the time that, for me, it was about just finding that truth. And you can imitate something very well and not move anybody. That, to me, was useless. It was important to transmit what was going on – that was the work.”
In the wake of the outcry over de Armas’ accent, the movie’s writer-director Andrew Dominik, executive producer Brad Pitt and even Monroe’s estate have come out in support of her performance.
Hollywood superstar Pitt, whose production company Plan B Entertainment spearheaded the film, told television programme Entertainment Tonight in August that de Armas is “phenomenal” in it.
Playing an icon such as Monroe is “a tough dress to fill”, added the 58-year-old American actor.
And Blonde was “10 years in the making – it wasn’t until we found Ana that we could get it across the finish line”, Pitt said.
In an interview with Variety magazine in August, Marc Rosen, president of entertainment at Authentic Brands Group, which owns the Monroe estate, agreed.
“Based on the trailer alone, it looks like Ana was a great casting choice as she captures Marilyn’s glamour, humanity and vulnerability.”
De Armas herself says the role was life-changing for her, even though it took an emotional toll.
“I knew I had to go to dark places and feel uncomfortable,” she says. “But I thought it was so beautiful. And the work of finding that emotional truth and that humanity was something I really wanted to do.”
Blonde premieres on Netflix on Wednesday.