The Havana-born actress Ana de Armas was first told she looked like Marilyn Monroe when she was standing in a parking lot, after being introduced to actress-producer Colleen Camp. “She had an innocence, a sweetness,” Camp recalled young De Armas. “I thought she was incandescent. She was very funny naturally, not trying to be funny. And I was like, ‘You know what? You remind me of Marilyn Monroe.'”
At the time, De Armas didn’t know what to think. She had previously acted in a romantic drama, “Una rosa de Francia” in Cuba, then rose to fame in Spain by appearing for six seasons in a popular teen series, “El Internado (The Boarding School)”. But now she was new to Hollywood, with a very light understanding of the English language, trying to start her career from scratch.
“At the time, I was like, ‘What is this lady saying?’ says De Armas, speaking via Zoom from a hotel room in Prague. “But she was right. She was the original [to say that].”
The way Camp tells the story, she was so captivated by De Armas that she urged director Eli Roth to meet her. The rest is erotic psychological horror movie history: The De Armas made her US feature film debut as a scantily clad temptress in “Knock Knock,” having learned her dialogue phonetically. Years later, another director, Andrew Dominik, would sit down in front of his TV, stumble upon “Knock Knock,” and draw the same connection between De Armas and the ’50s blonde bombshell.
For the past 15 years, Dominik had been trying to make a movie based on Joyce Carol Oates’ best-selling ‘Blonde,’ a fictionalized biography of Monroe from her turbulent upbringing to her rise to stardom until her demise. tragic at 36 years old. I was looking for someone where I could see what it was all about,” Dominik wrote in an email. “Marilyn Monroe was like the sun on screen – everything else revolved around her. Ana just has something that compels you to look at her and you can feel her. She was playful, she could turn on a dime and her emotions were like a force field that changed the atmosphere around her. She was powerful.
Then comes the hard work of transforming into an instantly recognizable American icon. De Armas spent a year working with a dialect coach to absorb Monroe’s breathless delivery and distinctive word pronunciations, and while she was playing a wide-eyed carer in Rian Johnson’s crackling whodunit in 2019 “Knives Out”, she perfected the choreography for legendary Monroe numbers such as “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.
“The way I approach each part is to really engage,” says De Armas. “I play a game and I do the best I can with the equipment I have. I give everything I have. All my attention. But some parts require more than others. In this case, this one required as much precision and work and just so that I was there mentally. I didn’t want to miss a step. Not just in an ambitious way of saying, “I’ve got to get this part right.” It was also for me. »
Indeed, with a budget of $22 million, “Blonde” was shot, in pre-pandemic 2019, in 47 days, a period that required zigzagging all over Los Angeles, filming in more than 22 locations, many of them where Monroe had actually resided or hung out. “His apartments, the [1920s bungalow] where she lived with her mother when she was little, and the house where she lived and died,” De Armas explains, checking off significant places. Her and Dominica also visited Monroe’s grave at Westwood Village Memorial Park. “She’s all over LA. She’s there. And everyone knows a story.
Filming in iconic sets was just one of the things that turned “Blonde” into an immersive experience for De Arma. Dominik would often dress both his dialect coach and pole operator in period clothing so he could keep rolling between takes, observing De Armas so closely he had little time to decompress, for feel like Ana for a second. “There was a documentary feeling at times,” she says. “There were a lot of times when someone gave me a note or fixed something and you can tell the camera is chasing me, the DP puts his camera on his shoulder and he just follows me everywhere.”
For her, the intensity during production never seemed anything less than overwhelming. That, she discovered, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “All those moments of hesitation and fear and insecurity worked in my favor when I was playing the part,” she says. “Because, for the most part, I felt like that was what [Monroe] also felt. All this pressure. The expectation of always delivering. Give and give and give and just be exhausted. And that, for me, was good. Whenever I had free time, my brain went to self-judgment, doubts, and worries. ‘What am I doing?’ Is it good enough? ‘What is [everyone around me] thinking?'”
When “Blonde” premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, the film received a 14-minute standing ovation during which tears rolled down De Armas’ cheeks and, for a moment, it was worth it. sadness. Then came the critics, many of whom praised its commanding performance while vehemently chastising the film as an exploitation of Monroe and for his relentless gloom.
Since then, she’s taken a crash course in what it’s like to support a film that inspires positive and negative responses, both passionate. “There’s no in-between with the movie, I feel like,” the actor says. “Some people just go there and quickly make the connection. They see the photos, the cinematic language, what we’re trying to do with the images and reinterpret that story. They get it, they love it, and they think Andrew is amazing. And then there’s the other side that really has nothing to do with it. And even beyond that, they find it offensive. So it was expected, but still surprising to see.
One thing is certain: her duties promoting “Blonde” were such that she is finally in Prague to catch up, learn mixed martial arts such as jiu-jitsu and hand-to-hand combat for “Ballerina”, the John Wick spin-off in which she plays an assassin and which may or may not reunite her with “Knock Knock” co-star Keanu Reeves. When asked who else is in the photo, she replies, “To be honest, I don’t know. [who is in the cast] Again. We don’t film. We are in pre-production,” she adds. “But it’s in the same world, so I expect some of the ‘John Wick’ cast to return.”
Was she kept in the dark, or did “Blonde” teach her to analyze her words very carefully? Either way, De Armas says she’s a different actress after “Blonde.”
“It changed the way I think about my limitations and the way I understand challenges,” she says. “It changed the way I work with the director. The collaboration. [Andrew] changed the way I expect future experiences to be. For me, that’s a very high bar.