MyWeek with Marilyn
COURTESY OF THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
KENNETH BRANAGH has been called a
modern Laurence Olivier because of his acting,
producing and directing skills. It seems appropriate that in My Week with Marilyn he should
play Olivier, trying to wrangle Marilyn Monroe
(Michelle Williams), in the 1957 film The
Prince and the Showgirl.
CC: What was your biggest challenge
Kenneth Branagh: I don’t look like him. I
don’t sound like him. I tried to get close to
him with a prosthetic chin that gave me the
cleft, a fuller lip, plucked eyebrows and blue-
black hair. I hoped for momentary things
that would evoke him. In Spartacus there’s a
look Olivier gives to Tony Curtis, where his
eyebrow goes up and his eyes go so dead that
it’s terrifying. I used that in a scene when
Olivier is talking about his insecurities.
CC: How do you feel about him, and did that
color your performance?
KB: Playing Olivier increased my admiration
for him. To prepare, I saw films I hadn’t seen
before. I was amazed by the breadth of what
he’d done. He recorded an entire dramatic
reading of the Bible. He came to Hollywood at
24 to try to have a Hollywood career and
couldn’t get arrested. Then he became a classical actor on stage in England. Later he was
England’s No. 1 leading man.
CC: Did you ever work with Olivier?
KB: When I was young I sent him a letter asking his advice about playing a role. He wrote
back on an old Underwood typewriter and
said, “It’s up to the actor himself to come up
with visual things, but my advice is to have a
bash and hope for the best.” For this film I
wrote, “Have a bash—hope for the best” on a
Post-it note, put it on my dressing room mirror
and looked at it every time I went to the set. C
Nancy Mills is a Los Angeles–based journalist
who writes about film and TV.
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