If you’ve heard anything about Blonde so far, it’s that it isn’t your typical Marilyn Monroe biopic. For one, it’s not really a biopic at all – Andrew Dominik’s long-gestating film is adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, a fictionalised telling of Monroe’s short, shocking, Hollwood-altering life. It has also, notably, been much-delayed over the years, and now as it finally prepares to arrive on our screens on Netflix, it’s been given a rare NC-17 rating in the States. But according to Ana de Armas, who plays Monroe in the movie, the shock and awe surrounding Blonde is very much in keeping with Dominik’s film.
“Andrew did not compromise, not once,” de Armas tells Empire in a major new Blonde interview. “He pushed back. This movie has had a long journey, not only before being made, but also after.” The result is a film that pushes cinematic boundaries and prods at cultural taboos, alternating between black-and-white and colour, with shifting aspect ratios, body-cams, a vaginal POV shot, conversations held with a fetus, and handheld camera shots. “It’s a film that is supposed to create controversy and discomfort, and it’s supposed to make you think about what happened – and what is still happening,” says its star. “It’s revolutionary, and I think it’s so brave.”
While its director tells Empire that Netflix has been “really supportive” of his vision (“Blonde is a very lucky movie, in that regard,” he says), the film’s more extreme content has pushed it into NC-17 territory – most notably for a scene depicting sexual assault by a studio head who gives Monroe her big break. If the movie is shocking, its star felt it was never gratuitous. “It always came from great respect [for] and understanding of that trauma,” explains de Armas of the film. “Despite the NC-17 rating, I never felt that there was anything exploitative. This movie is meant to be an experience, to move along with her feelings, what she’s going through. And that, unfortunately, takes what it takes.”
It meant a committed performance from de Armas, who throws herself into the rollercoaster life, both real and imagined, of Norma Jeane. “Whether we were shooting an abortion scene, dealing with abuse, nudity, happy sex, unhappy sex, it is so important to show the reality of it,” she says. “It’s not that I enjoy walking naked around set. But in this case, I had to give myself to it, to the fragility and the strength and the sexuality and everything that goes with it. Because we’re all of that. And it feels real and honest.” The result is a near-three-hour, formally-experimental odyssey unlike anything you’ve ever seen – call it Blonde ambition.
Read Empire’s full Blonde feature, getting the inside story on Andrew Dominik’s wild vision and Ana de Armas’ bold lead performance, in the Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery issue – on newsstands from Thursday 1 September, and available to pre-order online here. Blonde will be in select cinemas from 21 September, and on Netflix from 28 September.