My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn

Cast: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Eddie Redmayne, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi
Director: Simon Curtis

Synopsis: Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

Release Date: January 5, 2012

About the Production

"For a lot of people Marilyn is more of an iconic image than an actress," admits director Simon Curtis. "People haven't seen her films as much as they have her portrait. My way into this project was falling in love with the first of Colin Clark's two memoirs. As somebody who was assistant director at The Royal Court Theatre, I found it fascinating."

The first memoir, "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me," recounts Colin Clark's experiences working as third assistant director on the set of The Prince and The Showgirl, Marilyn Monroe's first film as both producer and star in which she played opposite Sir Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The book recounts the production's myriad problems, fuelled almost exclusively by the lack of communication and understanding between the two stars: Marilyn Monroe's erratic behavior and tardiness were exacerbated by her addiction to alcohol and prescription medication; while Sir Laurence Olivier, a staunch traditionalist, refused to accommodate Marilyn Monroe's idiosyncrasies or her devotion to Method acting, which she practiced under the guidance of Paula Strasberg.

While Colin Clark's memoir is a dishy, fly-on-the-wall account of Sir Laurence Olivier's and Marilyn Monroe's fraught partnership, his follow-up memoir, 'My Week With Marilyn' feels like an intimate confession. In it, Colin Clark affectionately remembers one enchanted week he spent leading the troubled Marilyn Monroe on a tour of the English countryside. It offers an all-too-rare glimpse of the real woman, born Norma Jeane Baker, beneath the carefully cultivated image, unencumbered by the busy machinery of stardom.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when 'My Week with Marilyn' was published," avows Simon Curtis. "Colin Clark really did have this tense, erotically charged week with the most famous woman in the world, at the peak of her fame. I couldn't believe my luck when I was able to get hold of the rights.

People had tried over the years. And in the last year I've met at least three very established directors who have said, "I've always wanted to make that story." So I feel very lucky."

Simon Curtis and producer David Parfitt decided to option the rights for both memoirs, wanting to combine elements from both books into the shooting script. Explains David Parfitt, "We thought that the first book, while it gave a really interesting insight into how The Prince and The Showgirl was made, might appeal more to people in the film industry. The second book, however, is the real peek behind the curtain into who Marilyn Monroe really was. Importantly, this is not a Marilyn Monroe biopic; it's about a window into her life, working on a particular film, and the relationship she forged with Colin Clark at a crucial moment in her life."

With the book rights secured, Simon Curtis and David Parfitt approached screenwriter Adrian Hodges, with whom Simon Curtis had worked on a BBC adaptation of 'David Copperfield', to try his hand at an adaptation. Adrian Hodges, however, expressed doubts about taking on Marilyn Monroe as a subject. "Like everyone else I was mesmerised by Some Like it Hot the first time I saw it. I had never seen anything so sexy," says the screenwriter. "But stories about Marilyn Monroe feel like an overworked field. Over the years she's just become this thing, this poster, a set image which has been produced again and again and again, both in her own image and in people like Madonna's and Lady Gaga's."

But after reading Colin Clark's two memoirs, Adrian Hodges changed his mind. "I thought they gave a wonderful insight to the very real side of Marilyn Monroe, the Marilyn Monroe who was everything that everybody thought she was - scared, insecure, frantic, sometimes impossible - but at the same time vulnerable, sweet, endearing, just a young girl, really. So I thought this screenplay could make her human again."

Much of the intrigue of Colin Clark's connection to Marilyn Monroe lies in just how unlikely their relationship was. How did a world-famous star at the height of her fame end up spending an intimate week travelling across England with a gopher from her film set? Colin Clark had only recently graduated from Oxford, and while he would eventually become an accomplished filmmaker in his own right, he had yet to cut his teeth when The Prince and The Showgirl went into production early in 1956. As a Third AD, his job was to be both visible and invisible. "Third AD's are everywhere and everyone knows who they are, because they have access to every aspect of the film, and yet at the same time they are possibly amongst the least important people there," says Adrian Hodges.

When Colin Clark arrived on set for his first day of work, he stumbled into a tense atmosphere created by the accomplished celebrities in his orbit. "This was a very critical time in all their lives," says Simon Curtis. "Marilyn Monroe had just married Arthur Miller and when she arrived at Heathrow airport to make this film, it was the proudest moment of her life. She was now married to the great intellectual who she thought was going to be her man for the rest of her life. Also, this was her first film as a producer, the first project under Marilyn Monroe Productions, and she was coming to England to work with the great Sir Laurence Olivier in an effort to disprove doubts about her acting ability. In some ways the story of our film is how that all went so wrong."

At the same time, Sir Laurence Olivier was trying to reignite his career as a movie star in a volatile cultural landscape that only seemed to herald his obsolescence. Simon Curtis notes, "1956 itself was an extraordinary year in England, with rock 'n' roll, the year of ITV, the year of Look Back In Anger, the year of Lucky Jim." Look Back In Anger's squalid settings and anti-establishment vitriol shocked reviewers and tore a hole through the bourgeois niceties of 1950s British theatre, while the satire Lucky Jim skewered just the sort of stiff academic pretensions with which Sir Laurence Olivier made his name. Adds Simon Curtis, "Culturally, so much was in turmoil at the time. Having Marilyn Monroe arrive with Paula Strasberg and the Method was yet another challenge to Sit Laurence Olivier's identity."

Marilyn Monroe's clashes with Sit Laurence Olivier, her anxiety about her marriage to Arthur Miller and her own insecurities about her talent made her deeply vulnerable. "She wanted a friend," explains Adrian Hodges. "And basically through a series of incidents, she became very close and intimate in a platonic way with Colin Clark, because he was always there and was non-threatening, although he was a charming and handsome man."

Marilyn Monroe yearned to escape the troubled production, and when she learned that Colin Clark came from a well-connected, privileged background - he was the brother of the famous diarist Alan Clark and the younger son of Kenneth Clark, the noted author and art historian - she realised he could provide access to places beyond her reach, such as Windsor Castle and Eton College. Adds Adrian Hodges, "It was a very innocent week and at the same time very charged with emotion and intimacy."

Indeed, Simon Curtis identifies the film's story as following the same tradition as the popular, nuanced film, Lost in Translation. "Two people accidentally come into each other's orbit and have this very charged connection, which then evaporates, and that appealed to me," says the director. "Also, the story chimes very much with our present fascination with celebrity. Now, with Twitter, you get very much into the details of how stars live, but back then things were much more controlled, so I liked how Colin Clark gives us this inside track."

A veteran of the stage and the small screen, Simon Curtis has waited a long time to make his directorial feature debut. "There have been films I have nearly done but I am really, really thrilled that my first film is what they call a passion project, not something I've just stumbled into. It's something I've always dreamt of making so it's a great starting point."

Marilyn Monroe
There was only one actress who Simon Curtis considered for the iconic role of Marilyn Monroe, and that was Oscar nominee Michelle Williams. "I've always admired Michelle William's work and absolutely consider her to be one of the finest actresses of her generation," says Simon Curtis. "Her performances in Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine were especially brilliant, and she's right at the age of our Marilyn Monroe in 1956. I was thrilled when it emerged that Michelle Williams was interested in the part. She's an incredibly hard worker and researcher and she is incredibly brave to take on such an iconic role."

Michelle Williams particularly appreciated the fresh angle into Marilyn's life afforded by Clark's memoirs. "For Michelle Williams it was key that the story wasn't about the whole of Marilyn Monroe's life," says Simon Curtis. "It's just one month, which gave it a natural focus."

The American actress admits that she was a little apprehensive about filling the role. "Gosh, really I was. How could you not be?" Michelle Williams concedes. "I kind of ignored it though and tried to make her in my own mind not a famous person, just a person for the shoot - more like a friend than an icon."

For Michelle Williams, the opportunity to play Marilyn Monroe was personally significant, as she's been an admirer of the icon since before she hit her teens. "I grew up with a poster of her in my bedroom," Michelle Williams reveals. "I had always been more interested in the private Marilyn Monroe, though, and the unguarded Marilyn - the Marilyn before Marilyn. Even as a young girl my primary connection wasn't with this larger-than-life personality, but with what was going on underneath."

Marilyn Monroe's desire to produce her own movies, and to come to England to work with the great Sir Laurence Olivier, was rooted in her desire to be taken seriously as an actress. The decision was a bold career move that found Marilyn Monroe taking on the role that Sir Laurence Olivier's esteemed wife and acting partner, Vivien Leigh, had originated in the stage version of The Prince and The Showgirl. Marilyn Monroe's dedication to Method acting was another bid for respect, though it placed her in stark contrast to the stagey performances favored by the Brits on screen.

"What Marilyn Monroe was anticipating happening and what actually wound up happening were two very different things and they created discord and unhappiness for her in England," explains Michelle Williams. "She was expecting to go to London and make a movie with the most esteemed actor of the time and hoped it would bring her the respect that she deserved and craved. When she arrived she felt she was being mistreated and laughed at. Sir Laurence Olivier sneered at her and didn't treat her with the kind of attention that she was hoping for. She felt that she needed allies and she found one in Colin Clark."

Even though her knowledge of Marilyn Monroe's life was already extensive, Michelle Williams pored over every research source she could find in preparation for the role. "The most useful thing was to watch the movies over and over again, to really make it like a screen that played on my brain," she says. "I'm very fond of The Prince and The Showgirl still, even though I can't count the number of times I've seen it."

Michelle Williams is still struck by Marilyn Monroe's talent and how modern her performances feel to this day. "She yearned to play dramatic roles but I rather take to her comedy and in The Prince and The Showgirl she wipes the screen with the rest of the cast," avows Michelle Williams. "They're all very stiff, mannered, archaic and unapproachable, while if she were making that movie today there's nothing about that performance that's gone out of fashion or faded. She is very real and very in the moment and so beautiful."

Colin Clark
To bring Colin Clark to the screen, Simon Curtis pursued the highly regarded young actor Eddie Redmayne. "I've always loved Eddie," explains the director, "and like Colin Clark, Eddie Redmayne is an old Etonian and has these qualities that are from the right place - he has both emotional maturity and a youthful innocence."

While Colin Clark was born into a privileged family, he was still considered somewhat bohemian by the standards of the upper class. "He was at school at Eton with all these aristocrats but actually he was an oddball because his family was not all within that posh context," explains Eddie Redmayne. "They'd have Sir Laurence Olivier or Margot Fonteyn over for dinner whereas everyone else was shooting and fishing. He seems to be a guy who has everything. But he's actually an eccentric who's been out in the world trying to prove his worth to his parents, to the rest of his high-achieving family, and also to himself."

Charming, bright and most importantly, tenacious, Colin Clark's selflessness proves to be his most winning attribute. "Colin Clark is a very caring guy and a very generous-spirited guy," muses Eddie Redmayne. "And all this chaos is going on around him, this explosion of talent, egos, energy, and sexuality."

In the film, the 23-year-old Colin Clark is an appealing, confident young man, though perhaps not quite as mature as he assumes he is. "He thinks that he's a bit of a player," admits Eddie Redmayne with a smile. "I spoke to a lady who was the press officer on the original film and she said that Colin Clark was a complete charmer and he could make anyone change their mind. It's that slight arrogance of youth. But he definitely learns a serious lesson in this film. It's a subtle coming of age story."

And not many young men learn worldly wisdom from one of the most famous, iconic women of all time. Adds Eddie Redmayne, "It's amazing that this runner, who has never worked on a film set before, could build a more intimate friendship with the leading lady than anyone else on the set. That is one of the wonderfully bizarre, brilliant things about filmmaking."

Eddie Redmayne believes that the friendship was possible in part because of Colin Clark's sensitivity as an observer, something he would put to use later in life as a documentary filmmaker. "He senses Marilyn Monroe's fragility amidst all of the chaos on set," says the actor. "He sees behind closed doors. And he doesn't have a fear of celebrity, having grown up in a household where he was having tea with Sir Laurence Olivier or Margot Fonteyn and great composers of the period. The celebrity washes over him but what remains is the dazzling quality Marilyn Monroe has and that really extraordinary thing: vulnerability. That's what he falls for."

Early in his time on set, Colin Clark flirts with a young wardrobe assistant, played by Emma Watson, in what seems like a budding romantic relationship. But that courtship is derailed by Clark's fascination with Marilyn Monroe and his desire to get closer to her. "Colin Clark does dare to dream that his friendship with Marilyn Monroe could lead to more, and certainly from what the book describes, the idea of kissing her on that frivolous utopian day of freedom is all wonderful," explains Eddie Redmayne.

Though their week together certainly carries an undeniable erotic charge, Colin Clark and Marilyn Monroe find themselves navigating more complex emotional terrain than that of a typical love affair. Says Eddie Redmayne, "Theirs is a strange relationship. It's a mixture of mother and son and then the opposite in some way with him fathering her. It's a very light and sometimes meaningful relationship, but also a wispy thing that they have. That's what I love about it. It is a fleeting thing between Colin Clark and Marilyn Monroe."

My Week with Marilyn
In truth, Laurence Olivier had high hopes for his project with Marilyn Monroe: it was the film that would reinvigorate his faltering film career. To bring the great actor to life on screen, the filmmakers turned to Kenneth Branagh, a modern day master of stage and screen who in his youth was often compared to Laurence Olivier. Indeed, both men directed and starred in highly regarded film versions of Henry V and Hamlet.

"I did have some concerns, but I decided that I would just read the script and see," says Kenneth Branagh. "I was completely captivated by the story. I knew the books by Colin Clark on which the script was based, but what surprised me was that while it could have been a very gossipy look into filmmaking, it was very touching and tender and very, very funny."

Kenneth Branagh was also impressed by the "affectionate and celebratory" portrayal of Laurence Olivier. "The script has a great and tender feel for Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe and the period. And not only is it this fascinating insight into the world of creating art and films, but the script is a real page-turner."

When directing and starring in The Prince and The Showgirl, Olivier was married to Gone with the Wind star Vivien Leigh, who occasionally visited the set. Played in the film by Julia Ormond, Vivien Leigh also had a soft spot for Colin Clark. "I think Vivien Leigh is a mix of incredible toughness and spiciness within a very feminine body," says Julia Ormond, who confesses to being a huge fan of the Hollywood star. "One of the things Vivien Leigh was known for was her extraordinary beauty, which is of course is horrifically intimidating. Thankfully, they did ask me to play her at 43 rather than 23. She was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, I think, by her beauty, more than jealous of her beauty."

Marilyn Monroe's spouse at the time was the famous playwright Arthur Miller, who is portrayed in the film by Dougray Scott. The couple arrive in England as newlyweds, although their young marriage is already showing signs of strain. "They were becoming increasingly separated and the relationship was becoming more and more difficult," says Dougray Scott. "She was a difficult woman, very complicated, very difficult to understand. But ultimately, in later years Arthur Miller spoke of how much he loved her and adored her."

When Arthur Miller returns to the United States following a misunderstanding with his new bride, Marilyn Monroe is left without any real friends apart from her acting coach and Method advocate Paula Strasberg, played by Zoe Wanamaker. "Paula Strasberg was married to Lee Strasberg, who was the leading light of the Method school in New York," says Zoe Wannamaker. "She worked with Marilyn Monroe and I don't think Laurence Olivier liked her being around that much. And I don't think Arthur Miller liked her in the end, either. I didn't want her to be a monster, though. I wanted to try and give some warmth and reality to her, a genuine concern and love."

While Paula Strasberg acts with her client's best interests at heart, the same is not necessarily true of her business partner Milton Greene, played by Dominic Cooper. "To begin with they were really tight," explains Dominic Cooper. "Then their relationship went from being a supportive relationship to, during that week, a fractious one. He would try to help her by giving her more medication and at the time when the film was shot she was being given all sorts of drugs for things that today are completely curable. She was in utter agony physically and emotionally and Milton, without really knowing what he was doing, was filling her with drugs to ease the pain. Everyone around her was trying to help her at that point in time without thinking of the full scale of the problem."

When Marilyn Monroe struggles to adapt to Laurence Oliver's set, it's the esteemed actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, played by equally esteemed actress Dame Judi Dench, who offers kind words. "She's there as a supporting ear to both Sir Laurence Oliver and Marilyn Monroe," explains Dame Judi Dench. "Dame Sybil Thorndike, knowing Sir Laurence Oliver so well, picks up on the tremendous tension between him and Marilyn Monroe very early on. I think her sympathies were totally with Marilyn Monroe and Colin Clark, though. She was very kind to Marilyn Monroe and very fond of her and championed her."

Rounding out the supporting cast is Lucy, the wardrobe assistant played by Emma Watson, with whom Colin Clark has a potentially amorous liaison before Marilyn Monroe steals his heart. "Lucy has experience on set, whereas to Colin Clark the film world is all new, shiny and exciting," says Emma Watson. "She is very wary about Assistant Directors and she knows how these films run, but she's still a bit naïve and innocent. Even though at first she's very careful of Colin Clark, she falls for him and ends up getting hurt."

Recreating 1956
Much of My Week with Marilyn was shot at Pinewood Studios, the same studio used by The Prince and The Showgirl, as well as on location at Hatfield House, Windsor Castle, Eton College and on the banks of the Thames. The production also filmed scenes in Parkside House, the same house Marilyn Monroe stayed in while shooting The Prince and The Showgirl. "That location in particular was wonderful," reports Simon Curtis. "When we were doing the scene where Marilyn Monroe found Arthur Miller's notebook, which she read to her horror, to do it on the very stairs where Marilyn Monroe would have sat, it was just incredible."

Simon Curtis explains that he wanted the film to be loyal to 1956, "yet also for it to have a modern feel." Integral to the film are sequences in which Sir Laurence Olivier and company are shooting scenes from The Prince and The Showgirl. "It's like a film within a film," says producer David Parfitt. "For Simon Curtis, it was very important to concentrate on the colours and textures and the introduction of Technicolor in the '50s. We wanted to contrast the filming of the scenes from The Prince and The Showgirl with what happened outside the set.

"It's been great fun," he continues, "because we had some people connected with the original film on our set, along with some of their sons and daughters. We had the continuity lady from the original film come in for a day, and to be filming in that studio, the same one that the film was made in, with Michelle Williams being in the same dressing room, there was a wonderful sense of history about the whole thing. I hope we've made a special film."