The sometimes tense relationship with Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier during production of The Prince and the Showgirl is examined in My Week With Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.
The biggest challenge for make-up/hair designer Jenny Shircore was transforming Williams into the iconic Monroe.
“You’re not cloning Marilyn; it is Michelle Williams,” explained Shircore, “but you have to try and encapsulate the essence of Marilyn, hopefully in a convincing way so that every now and then you think, ‘Gosh, was that Marilyn I just saw?’ We didn’t do anything like false noses, big ears; it all came from Michelle.
“What we did was see how we could play around with her face to produce effects that would reshape her features with just make-up. If you look at Michelle, none of her features are like Marilyn’s. Her eyes are a completely different shape, and so is her face and cheekbones, but once you start shading in the face, and changing the shape of her lips and eyelids and lifting her eyebrows, you’re covering Michelle with Marilyn but you can’t block out Michelle completely.
“We didn’t want to change the shape of her face with prosthetics, because we’re showing you a Marilyn Monroe that perhaps the general public doesn’t know too much about, so the emotion has to come through the make-up. There are times in the film when she’s actually wearing very little make-up but we still kept tiny aspects of Marilyn, such as the eyebrows, the shading and the shape of the lips, so we would keep three or four major points that helped us towards Marilyn. Some of it was quite difficult, because Michelle’s eyes are completely different. Marilyn had very distinctive eyelids, so we had to try and form that shape on Michelle’s eyes by the use of light and shade.”
The film is packed with other real-life characters, including Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh (below left), Dougray Scott as the playwright (and Monroe’s husband) Arthur Miller (right) and Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike (below right). “Most of the scenes in our film are scenes with the actors from The Prince and the Showgirl in their film make-up,” said Shircore, “so you see very little of them in their actor persona; just their character in the film. We were filming scenes from The Prince and the Showgirl that we were reenacting, so if Marilyn’s hair looked a certain way in that original scene we had to copy it for our film and get it right.”
While most of the characters were recreated with straight make-up and hair, a few minor prosthetics were added, but Shircore doesn’t want to give away where. “You’ll have to see for yourself if you can spot them!” she laughed. “I’m not going to give them away, but they are things that make a difference and they’re all beautifully conceived, produced and worn by the actors.”
While Shircore, a self-confessed perfectionist, is never fully satisfied with any project she works on, she’s glad that she and Williams were able to create an image of Marilyn Monroe that was respectful to the real person.
“It’s quite a contained piece,” she said, “because our characters are either in the studio filming the movie or Marilyn is surrounded by the film people like the ADs, so it’s not that big a cast. But it’s a lovely period, and I think we will definitely take you back to the world of Marilyn Monroe.”
My Week With Marilyn opens Nov. 23. For more coverage of 2011 winter movies, see Issue 93 of Make-Up Artist magazine.