Chicago Film Fest Diary – Q&A with Simon Curtis

For my second Q&A, I was lucky enough to be in the premiere audience of My Week With Marilyn. It was attended by director Simon Curtis. Curtis is a popular BBC television director in the UK. Marilyn marks his first feature length film. It was a very informative interview, and as before with my coverage of the John C. Reilly interview – some passages *may* be paraphrased but I wrote down as verbatim as I could.

Just like John C. Reilly, Mr. Curtis watched the film along with the audience. I will be leaving my personal feelings on the film out of this coverage (read my review if you care what I thought). The photo above proves the point of the success of Marilyn. That’s a shot of the lobby outside of the theatre. And there she is, Marilyn Monroe – the largest and most beautiful face on the wall.

On his inspiration for making the film:
“I was never a huge Marilyn Monroe fanatic. I was actually a fan of the memoirs written by Colin Clark. And from my interest in these books I grew into a Marilyn fan.”

On his background as a theatre director:
“My background was never in writing or film making. I was actually a theatre director. I have even worked (here in) Chicago at the Steppenwolf. Then I transitioned into television working for the BBC. This is my first feature length film. I believe theatre has helped me as a film director.” 

On the pre-production of the film:
It took about 7 years to this day getting this film shown. We started looking for a Marilyn and just “hoped for the best”.  

When asked if he spoke or had any direct contact with anyone involved in making “The Prince and the Showgirl” (of which the film is based):
“I met with Elaine Schreyeck who did the continuity for The Prince and the Showgirl. At the time of shooting that movie Elaine was 30 – the same age as Marilyn Monroe. I asked her about Marilyn and what she remembered and she said – She was just like a little girl. Very innocent and young.”

On Marilyn Monroe’s state during the film 1956 filming:
” She has just left Hollywood and moved to New York with Arthur Miller. They were newlyweds. He was the biggest playwright and she the most famous woman in the world. She had just started Marilyn Monroe Productions, her own production company. Basically our film is how all of this went wrong.”

On casting:
“I have worked with a bunch of actors before and when I started naming off people for this movie I had everyone telling me ‘don’t ask so-and-so they will just say no’. And I always figured how will I know until I ask? “

On Michelle Williams:
“Michelle is unbelievably brave. She was brave in taking on this role of an icon. Marilyn was very method and Olivier was very natural – well Michelle is a bit of both. She is both method and natural. (And she had) to play three versions of Marilyn in the film: the Public Marilyn, the Private Marilyn, and Elsie from the Prince and the Showgirl.”

When asked if Michelle Williams was the first choice for Marilyn:
“Michelle was at the top of our list. Of course there were other names on the list, but Michelle is the first actress I met with and luckily she wanted to do it.” 

On how Michelle connected to the part of Marilyn:
“She learned and felt her character a lot through the dance in the film. We filmed that early on and it was in those moments that I could tell she really began to click with the character. We also were allowed to use the house Marilyn lived in while on the set for the movie. So the scene where Marilyn is crying on the stairs in the house – those are the same stairs Monroe cried on. When Marilyn and Arthur and with Vivian and Laurence standing outside of the front of the house for photographers – that’s the same house the actual couples stood outside of. (I think) all of this helped Michelle in her performance.”

On Michelle’s transformation into Marilyn:
“There was a very large makeup and costume crew (which helped) Michelle transform into Marilyn, but it’s all Michelle.” 

 When asked by an audience member if it was a challenge because Michelle Williams doesn’t particularly look like Marilyn Monroe:
“Well, Cate Blancett didn’t look very much like Hepburn. You don’t look at Frank Langella and see Richard Nixon. Helen Mirren doesn’t look like the Queen. But when you get the right actor – you just buy it.”

On Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier:
“Kenneth has had Olivier thrown at him his entire career (so it seemed perfect). He had this character marinating inside him for 30 years. Also he was going through post production on ‘Thor’ while we were shooting – so he could definitely connect with the (extra level of stress) actor who is also the director.” 

On filming at Windsor Castle:
“We are the first film that has been allowed to shoot that shot of us going up the driveway to the castle, which I thought was very special. We only had 45 minutes to get the shot. Of course all of the interiors were filmed on a sound stage.”

When asked what his favorite Marilyn Monroe film is:
“It’s a rather boring choice but … Some Like It Hot.”

When asked what advice he would give to a young and upcoming filmmaker:
“(Find yourself) a passion project. Act your instinct and go for it!”

When asked what his next project will be?
“I have no clue. We literally just finished this film a week ago. I’ve been on a plane since then. First we were in New York, then San Fran, and now Chicago. It’s taken 7 years to get to this point and I don’t think I will be rushing back to making anything for a while.” 

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