Inside Ana de Armas’ Stunning Marilyn Monroe Transformation

It takes a lot to earn a 14-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, but when filmmaker Andrew Dominik Blond did so earlier this month, the wheels of the Oscar bus officially started turning. Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the film stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, in a fictionalized look at the complex inner life of the world’s most iconic woman. She exists not as one but as two women in film, as she did in life: the intelligent, desperate to be loved Norma Jean, raised by a mentally ill mother and living on the fringes of Los Angeles in the middle of the century; and Marilyn Monroe, the blonde pin-up girl who would hypnotize the world.

Blond presented an interesting challenge for her costume designer Jennifer Johnson (whose credits also include Kajillionaire and me Tonya). How do you create a character that the world already knows in such a specific and iconic way? How do you connect and differentiate Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe, the two parts of a character’s psyche? And above all, how to make the perfect blonde wig, for the most famous blonde bombshell in the world, in a film literally titled Blond? We reached out to Johnson to find out more about what’s going on in the film’s adorable costumes. There are, of course, the moments we know and love about Marilyn – the pink dress of Gentlemen prefer blondes, the white halter dress of Seven year itch– but the film also delves into the more cerebral and unexpected side of Marilyn Monroe. It turns out that a simple black sweater becomes one of the most emotional parts of the film. As we have come to understand from our conversation with Johnson—in Blond, as with Mrs. Monroe herself, there is always more than meets the eye.


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Marilyn Monroe is such an icon, maybe the most iconic icon. How did you start your research process?

JJ: Andrew Dominik had been working on the project for probably ten years when I started, and he had amassed a collection of images in this eight-hundred-page PDF that we affectionately called “The Bible.” What was extremely important to me was doing research, and not just copying an image, but also determining the elements of the building blocks of each costume. I looked at the original pattern, the elements of what each fabric was, the true color of the clothes. So it was like digging into those designs and not only “doing them right” but also giving them new life.

Did you want to recreate Marilyn’s most famous looks literally, or did you take a few liberties?

JJ: I wanted a sense of naturalism. A costume has to work on the individual actor in front of us, and work with their body, and with the availability of 21st century materials. So there’s definitely been some changes made but overall I was obsessed with getting it right because there’s been a lot of Marilyns over the years but I think sometimes it gets almost like a Halloween costume, or hanging out Marilyn walking down Hollywood Boulevard.

What was the hardest look to pull off?

JJ: Probably the Seven year itch dress when she walks on the subway grid. There was a lot of technical stuff about the size of the skirt and the volume of fabric you use, because a lot of people have recreated this dress over the years and never seem to make the skirt big enough. That’s a lot of fabric that you hand sew in a circle into the bodice…and I decided to add a little more to the skirt because I knew it would have this kind of gyratory moment. I was very excited to see this scene in the film because when the wind blows it’s in slow motion and it just goes on and on. You see her shoes, which were custom-made, and the dress, which is custom-made, and you see the hair and the makeup and you just think, “This is the best costume porn.

blonde ana de armas as marilyn monroe, crmatt kennedy netflix © 2022

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A lot of Blond talks about the dichotomy between the characters of Norma Jean and Marilyn. How did you try to convey that through the costume?

JJ: In the movie, Norma Jean has a uniform that really boils down to her sweaters. Her truly iconic look is the black turtleneck and pants. I think she really wanted to look like an intellectual, to show the world that she was an intellectual, that she was cultured and that she was serious about her job. Much of her fashion was inspired by the New York beatniks of this period. Wearing black back then instantly meant you were an artist in an alternative culture. I think wearing black was a great way for her to look away from Marilyn, and that’s why it was important for me to show that she could go from the most glamorous woman any minute. , sexualized and gorgeous, and then to someone very serious and internal the next day.

In the trailer, there is a stunning camel coat worn over the shoulders which gives the same effect. It is the coat of an intelligent woman, of a connoisseur.

JJ: This coat was also extremely oversized and maybe allowed him to dress up in real life. In New York, she was so free because she could put on this big coat and no one would notice her.

blonde ana de armas as marilyn monroe cr netflix © 2022

2022 © Netflix

Were there any other pieces that stood out from the film that were perhaps not the iconic and most immediately recognizable things that Marilyn wore? Maybe there’s something viewers today might want to try carrying into their own lives?

JJ: There was this black and white capri pants that she wears a lot in the film. Or there was also this famous sweater that she wears, it’s a white sweater with a shawl collar and this kind of print on it. This was recreated by this amazing knitting designer in Los Angeles named Suss Knits.

And I have to ask. Did you dye Ana de Armas’ hair?

JJ: It’s a wig! Production schedules would never allow you to change a hairstyle so quickly. You also don’t want to destroy the actors hair, I mean Ana was gonna, like, finish no time to die and do the deep waters film. But Jamie Lee McIntosh [the hair department head] is a brilliant hair creator. She had two or three wigs.

What a wig!

JJ: We did wigs that were just amazing. The hairline is so good. We made a prosthesis that added to Ana’s forehead. Marilyn always wore her hair back and she had this very specific hairline. I actually think she could have had electrolysis to change her hairline, which a lot of actresses have done, so she has this little widow peak. But when that wig is on, and you see the nape of the neck, for example, and all those really adorable little details of the hair that goes down the neck, it’s so real and personal.

blonde 2022ana de armas and director andrew dominikcr matt kennedynetflix

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Marilyn Monroe was also known for her voluptuous figure. How did you approach creating this body on Ana?

JJ: We were overloaded in our schedule because we were determined to finish on time, so we thought about maybe using a prosthetic body, maybe adding weight, but at the end of the day, we thought it was so hot outside of filming. in Los Angeles and it was taking Ana out of character and it took her a long time to get into these things so my seamstress had the brilliant idea to just make this kind of two inch wide elastic waistband with buttons -pressure on it that Ana wears on her naked body under the clothes. It was like a remnant of the workshop floor. Every morning he hung on Ana [clothes rack] and we watched her dutifully put it on. You know, she just wore it all the time on set, and I think every once in a while it probably gave her a little stomachache, but it really was the most elegant solution. It gave that little bit of pressure on her waist to change her hip ratio just enough for it to be over the top ever since, but it was such a sleek, minimalist way to achieve it.

One thing that is not correct in the film is the breasts. If you look at any woman from that era, especially Marilyn, her breasts were really, really exaggerated and pointy. Marilyn Monroe used to put beads in the tips of her bras to make her nipples look exaggerated, and it sure does look weird when you think about it. I thought, it’s too weird and it’s big, and it’s going to take Ana out of character. Ultimately, it was all about how to make slight changes that would make her look very natural and not take her out of character.

blonde l to r ana de armas as marilyn monroe with director andrew dominik cr matt kennedy netflix © 2022

matt kennedy

I ask every costume designer. Was there anything on set that your actors tried to steal and take home?

JJ: You know we had a really good deal. I think because it’s such an intense story, it’s very emotional and very sad, that no matter how much you liked one of your costumes, maybe you didn’t want to take that energy home.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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