How Ana de Armas Transformed Into Marilyn Monroe in ‘Blonde’
Marilyn Monroe is one of the most iconic stars in the cultural zeitgeist, inspiring countless retellings of her life and career through films and TV shows.
The latest is Netflix’s “Blonde,” which stars Ana de Armas as Monroe. The film, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month and hits Netflix Sept. 28, has received rave reviews for de Armas’ performance and transformation into Monroe, which took multiple hours each day.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, “Blonde” enlisted costume designer Jennifer Johnson, hair department head Jaime Leigh McIntosh and makeup department head Tina Roesler Kerwin to help transform de Armas into Monroe.
Each morning on set, de Armas would spend roughly two to three hours in the makeup chair with Kerwin and McIntosh, who started off her transformation with a prosthetic bald cap to hide de Armas’ dark hairline and give a foundation for her blonde wigs. Kerwin then bleached and minimized de Armas’ natural eyebrows and applied false lashes to make the actress’ eye shape match Monroe’s.
“We went through everything we could — every movie, every research book, every fan site — anything we could get our hands on,” Kerwin said about her approach to de Armas’ makeup. We always start with the script and what the director is looking for specifically and how many recreations we had to do. Then you just dive in and hit the ground running and see how many you can get right. It was a big responsibility because Marilyn has so many fans still and everyone to some extent knows what Marilyn looks like, but there are some people who really know what Marilyn looks like. To honor Ana, to honor Andrew and to honor Marilyn, it was a lot. It was a responsibility that we took very seriously.”
“Blonde” is a dramatized retelling of Monroe’s life and career starting from her childhood. The film follows Monroe at the start of her career and highlights her ups and downs in the film industry, as well as her romantic relationships with figures like playwright Arthur Miller (played by Adrien Brody) and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio (played by Bobby Cannavale).
For the hair, makeup and costume heads, authenticity was of the utmost importance for the film considering “Blonde” recreated many of Monroe’s most famous looks.
“I felt like as a costume designer, I had to really pay tribute to those original designs in a really loving way that also showed I was paying attention to how special they are,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to copy stuff, but it’s a lot harder to recreate it. It’s almost like a different thing, you know? Like recreating is also imbuing it with a spirt — like the labor that went into it and the amount of hands sewing it and having everything done in the way they would have been doing originally.”
Two of Monroe’s most iconic looks that were recreated for “Blonde” are the pink dress she wears in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and the white pleated halter top dress she wears in the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch.” Both iconic dresses were originally designed by costume designer William Travilla.
For both costumes, Johnson wanted to stay as authentic and true to the original as possible. She looked into the actual techniques and fabrics Travilla used and tried to pay homage to the designer.
“For the specific looks, it was my job to connect the dots and investigate any missing pieces, especially with construction of costumes and really delving deep into our recreations, it was incredibly important to do that forensic work and get down to how those designs were originally made,” she said. “Then, also have the ability to not be so married to the original that it felt suffocating, so it was always on my mind to keep everything very naturalistic looking even if it was a recreation. It needed to have its own life outside of Marilyn and needed to become part of our movie.”
One of the biggest challenges the department heads were presented with was the film’s switch between black and white and colored scenes. They explained that sometimes they knew beforehand if a scene would be in color or not, but oftentimes didn’t know or were made aware moments before filming. This mainly impacted the usage of certain colors, which affected Johnson and Kerwin.
“Lip colors were the biggest challenge — finding lip colors that would work in black and white,” Kerwin said. “We had a pre-shoot day where we were doing about 36 different images that day. It was a great crash course in trying lots and lots of lip colors. I ultimately landed on some that worked in color, some that worked in black and white and a couple that worked in both.”
While de Armas’ beauty look remained relatively the same throughout the movie, Kerwin and McIntosh wanted the beauty to reflect Monroe’s transitions through her life and her ups and downs.
“Marilyn is known for being a classic, iconic beauty — and fortunately for us, so is Ana,” Kerwin said. “We just had to build on that and find our Marilyn in Ana. It was also fun to wreck her sometimes and make it not perfect or glamorous — there’s a range in how she looks. We had some giggles sometimes when we got the chance to wreck her, but it’s Marilyn and you can’t get away from that in the hair, makeup and costumes.”
De Armas’ daily transformations were key to the film, given Monroe’s long-reigning status as a fashion icon, the artists said.
“Those costumes are in the zeitgeist of the world — especially that white dress with the halter top and pleats — it’s a part of who she is, it’s part of her icon,” Johnson said. “You’re never going to have her icon be the nude pinup, even though we all know that photo. But it really is about that white dress. I think that embodies her elegance and that she was a part of a Hollywood system that was outputting amazing work and had beautiful designs coming out of it.”
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