One of the most polarizing films of 2022 was Blonde, the NC-17-rated biographical psychological drama that tells the story of Marilyn Monroe's life. Criticized for its graphic depictions of violence and surreal choices that blur the line between speculation and reality, its star Ana de Armas earned the film most of its acclaim. Now, she's ready to get into the nitty-gritty of how she felt about the film.
In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, de Armas remembers her reaction to reading the film's script for the first time. "It was shocking," she recalls. "I remember telling Andrew when we met after I’d read the script that it felt like a horror movie to me."
Recognizing her reaction, de Armas decided to use her Cuban heritage as a way to separate herself from the initial shock. She tells THR: "I think one thing that I had that helped me was actually not being American. All this information that people have of Marilyn, [they] just have a very specific narrative about her life and who she was. I didn’t have all that. [Blonde] is a shocking way of telling her side of the story. I thought it was really interesting and real. I have watched movies about Marilyn before, and they’ve always felt in the same tone — repetitive, following the things that we already know [about] her as a movie star. That intimacy, that private, deeper side of her in her psychology, or trauma, which is what Blonde is about, that was missing for me."
Likewise, the celebrated actress noticed the difference in audience reception when she went overseas. "When we premiered the movie in Venice, or San Sebastián, [the reaction was much warmer than the reception was in the U.S.]," de Armas said. "Of course, the reaction that gets the most attention is the one in the U.S., but that wasn’t the whole experience."
Blonde featured a number of things that made critics give it the side-eye. One of the strangest scenes was one in which a CGI fetus spoke to Monroe to shame her for having an abortion in the past. It's to be noted that it was never confirmed that Monroe had one. Reproductive rights activists criticized the film for being "anti-abortion propaganda" because the fetus was portrayed as a fully grown baby. Monroe historians have said that she did have several miscarriages, and the actress desperately wanted to have children.
The film was also criticized for its graphic depictions of sexual abuse, notably a scene in which she is assaulted by a film producer believed to be based off of Darryl Zanuck. Monroe has previously written in her memoir about meeting predators in the industry.
Blonde is based on Joyce Carol Oates' novel of the same name. Oates used publicly known and available information about Monroe and offered a more complex, speculative look at her tragic life. The book, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, was intended to be taken entirely as fiction. Oates approved of the adaptation, calling it "feminist." Likewise, de Armas believed the film did not slander Monroe. "I don’t think the movie speaks badly about her a bit. I think it’s the opposite," she said. "I think it speaks badly about the environment and the industry, and that’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes for other people in the business."
As for the most important takeaway of de Armas' enlightening interview, she hones in on the most important part of the film: "I feel like the movie also makes the audience feel like participants. We contributed at the time, and we still contribute, in the exploitation of actors, people in the public eye. We, the audience, do this. And I feel like it’s possible that some people have felt like [someone] pointed a finger at [them]."
Photo courtesy of Kyle Goldberg/BFA