Adrien Brody, who features as playwright and one-time Marilyn Monroe spouse Arthur Miller in Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, says elements of the story adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 bestselling fictionalized novel, are “terrifying” but hopefully lead to a feeling of empathy for the woman behind the cultural icon.
Blonde is a reimagined retelling of Monroe’s life that explores the split between her public and private selves. The Netflix movie was warmly greeted at its Venice Film Festival premiere but has polarized critics.
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Brody, with whom I caught up on the Lido, said what Blonde portrays of what Monroe endured is “terrifying,” and called it “really brave storytelling. … I think it’s important in a lot of ways because although it is harsh to experience, sometimes that brings greater understanding, and I think there’s a lot of positivity in that. … I don’t think there’s been a universal sense of empathy for [Monroe]. There’s been a lot of love and adulation, but I don’t think it’s empathetic.”
The film, Brody said, “is really about a woman whose childhood traumas and all of these ongoing hardships have affected her life and her choices, both personally and professionally, and how she has to endure that. And her mental health, right? — which is completely untreated and not addressed and very sad.”
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Playing Miller was “a very interesting challenge,” said Brody. “It’s a very rich and complex role.”
In the film, the pair, who were married from 1956-61, meet during an audition for one of Miller’s plays as Monroe (Ana de Armas) surprises him with her literary knowledge. While Brody said that initial meeting is perhaps not how it really went down, it offered a structural opportunity to “encapsulate all of the flaws and thinking that are so kind of pervasive … that are oppressive to her and to him on his own because he’s a very intelligent man; his own awareness of his own inability to see her clearly as a human being; and the real beauty that he sees through that revelation of her intellect and her emotional intelligence. I thought that was such a beautiful reconstruction.”
Brody did extensive research for his role; does he think Miller ever reconciled the Chekhov-quoting Norma Jeane with the star Marilyn? He told me, “I think it was a very different time also and there’s a dismissiveness initially that in that revelation it’s not just about what he’s missed with his own work and interpreting a character insight into something that he can find. It’s an insight in himself, a need to be more present and more conscious of that, and there lies the opening for love and hope and feeling that he’s found a woman that fulfills all these yearnings and she feels the same.”
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As depicted in the film, the marriage sort of fades away following a miscarriage. Opined Brody, “It’s tragic because there’s potential. There was something that I fought for, that Andrew and I spoke a great deal about, about the complexity of what that must have been — that dynamic that there’s a need for some of that hopefulness.”
He continued: “It was a short-lived marriage, but they went on to do The Misfits, which was really trying for all of them, and that was probably the ending — working together and being completely at odds. He was revising the work constantly, which was very challenging for her and her process. They were unraveling.”
The actor added that there has been a “disconnect” between the woman and the myth.
“Her reality is so far from what people’s reality is, and it says so much about perception within our industry and success and what people project onto someone else — their hopes and dreams and then the actor’s hopes and dreams. I always felt for her and so I was very intrigued by this.”