Taken from the cover story in Hollywood Authentic – Issue Two here.
Ana de Armas stars in Blonde, out now on Netflix
People don’t really appreciate what a crazy life it is being an actor. If I was a big film star, well, they do maybe two films a year. But I have to do six or more. Because I am always the slightly out-of-focus best friend, never the lead. So I’ve done something like 120 films. When I was doing [US TV series and movie] Ray Donovan, my life was one third in America doing that, one third on another film set somewhere and one third back in the UK. And when I am here, I always try to get back to Hackney.
I was brought up on the Hackney Road. Not the gentrified bit – Shoreditch or Hoxton. A lot of the people I grew up with are still there, still living on the same estate. And I pine for those guys, I really miss them, especially Emanuel Mitchell. He is St Lucian and, basically, he taught me to dance. He was a bit older than me, three or four years. So I was, like, 13 or 14 and he was 17. And my mum used to say to him: ‘Make sure you get Eddie home by 10pm.’ And he always did. Even if he was busy pulling a bird, he’d break off to make sure I got back home. When we went for a night out, we always used to go out dancing.
My kids are teenagers now and the oldest ones go clubbing. I tell them that we used to drink a tin of Tennent’s Super to get a buzz on and that was it. We couldn’t afford drinks at the club. And we never got stoned, never got out of control, because some of the places we went to were really dangerous if you didn’t keep your wits about you. One of the ways to stay out of trouble was just to keep dancing. And so, we danced. I never used to pull. Emanuel did – I couldn’t pull a toilet chain.
We also danced at home. We would take all the furniture out of one house and move it into the other – Emanuel’s into mine or vice versa. And we’d bring in this big sound system. We had Paul Campbell on the door. “Meatballs” we called him [after Campbell’s Meatballs], a very handsome guy. He made sure only the right people came in. Mind you, I reckon if you bunged him a jacks [£5] you’d get through the door. And we played music and danced till five in the morning. Mostly James Brown and a lot of Northern soul and rare groove. We used to do the drops and everything. There was one we used to do and someone said to me, that’s called the Wigan Roll and I never knew that. We just did it.
When was the last time I had a good dance? Not that long ago, at my wife’s 50th. She said, you know, Eddie, it’s not going to be all about the dancing. But it was. And I think I got half cut and one of my kids went up to Emanuel – they love him, too – and said, look after Dad, will you? Which is funny because he’s been looking after me most of my life.
Emanuel had two brothers and two sisters, and when I was young, I spent probably more time in their house than in my own, because my mum and dad had a difficult marriage. Everyone used to come to the Mitchells’ place. All nationalities, all welcome. And if you walked into the kitchen, you’d have to put some water on the rice to make sure it didn’t burn. Because there was always rice and peas on the go – Joyce, his mum, would feed the neighbourhood and she was a single mother, a cleaner, bringing up five kids in a council flat. If it wasn’t for his family taking me in, I think I would have been all over the place. I owe him. I lived on that estate from the age of four and left when I was 28. So, we were friends for a long time. Still are. And he’s still a fantastic dancer and a fabulous artist.
His dad wasn’t around. Not many dads were. Every dad had a court order against them. The rule was, if you saw your dad, you had to tell your mum, who’d call the police!
My mother got me this T-shirt once and it said: One Race, The Human Race. I used to wear it when we’d go and stand on the corner because the NF [the National Front, a UK far-right political party] were walking past and we’d swear as they came by. Because we’d face them down. I was talking about this with someone the other day, the rise of populism and racism that we are seeing around the world. We were dealing with that back then. When you hear politicians trying to bend to these people or yield to them, you can’t do that with racists. You can’t bend to them. You’ve just got to call them out. We’ve been calling them out all our lives.
In retrospect, I think there were certain signs that suggested I might be an actor even when I was a boy. WhenI was a kid, I used to sit on my dad’s knee and watch movies. His favourite actors were Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman. And I remember watching The Godfather, which is actually my favourite film, and I was always drawn to Duvall, because he was so silent and so minimalist in what he did. He expressed so much by doing so little. My old man, he always used to point at him and say – he plays a good part. I always wondered: what does that mean? He plays a good part. And so, I would look closely at what he was doing or not doing and so probably had an appreciation of good acting even then.
Later on, Bob Hoskins was a massive influence on me. To watch films like The Long Good Friday and to hear someone like Bob speak, with that accent, and for that character to be the protagonist of the story, was a real eye opener. I remember, he swore on screen and it was authentic. Usually, you’d hear someone swear and it never sounded right. And Bob swore and I thought, that sounds just like my dad.
I also remember being mesmerised by this cover photo on The Face magazine. It was the new generation of young British actors. Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and so on. It was Gary who really stood out. He’s just phenomenal, as an actor and a director. Some time later, I was telling Jack English, who was the unit photographer on a movie I was doing, that I was a big fan of Gary’s work. A few days later Jack said, I’ve got a message for you from Gary, an email. Not a long one. It said: ‘Eddie, be an international actor’. What he meant was, don’t only be a London actor. Try and work with people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. It was wonderful. I’ve never spoken to him since, I don’t know him in person. But it was quite a profound thing to say, really.
Something else I had to learn was not to be afraid of long-form television. I was always scared of doing episodic-style dramas, and I didn’t know how you could,as an actor, tell the arc of the story and balance it out over such a long time span. I turned down a role on Boardwalk Empire because I wasn’t sure how to do it. But when I did Ray Donovan, the guy who became the show runner, David Hollander, he was a great help in guiding me through it. He taught me how you would set some things up in one episode and pay it off three or four episodes down the line or even a season later.
There was never an “Eddie Marsan” type, I was never really put forward for one kind of role. It was always a different sort of character. Nobody has ever asked me to play myself. They do with some actors, the ones with charisma who cost 20 million dollars. I was always hired to play someone else, not me. It was a struggle to begin with, but as I have got older it is to my advantage because nobody has a fixed idea about me. Some will know me from Ray Donovan, others from something like Happy-Go-Lucky or Ridley Road. So, I’m offered a very broad variety of parts. I have just worked with Guy Ritchie on a couple of projects, including Operation Fortune, a spy spoof with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant. I’ve also played John Adams, the American president, in a miniseries called Franklin, which has Michael Douglas as Benjamin Franklin, which we shot in Paris. It is about him going to France to raise funds for the American War of Independence. I did some work on a film called Midas Man, where I play Brian Epstein’s dad. It’s a very good script, although it is on hold right now. You might have thought there wasn’t much left to say about The Beatles, but it’s a great story. And then there’s Firebrand, about Henry VIII’s last wife, in which
I play Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour. Then there is The Power, which is based on a novel – it has a brilliant premise, in that women gain the power to electrocute men. Which gives them control over them. So, yes, there’s lots of very varied work, which I am grateful for.
One of the reasons I like going back to my old neighbourhood is those people knew me and loved me before I was any kind of famous. They loved me when there was nothing in it for them. Now, I have a lot of people who want to talk to me because I have a level of fame. Being well-known from film or TV is a weird business. It can be very lonely, because you meet people and they don’t react as they would to anyone else. When I go back to Emanuel and his family I can relax. We don’t talk about my work, we talk about the kids or what’s happened to the local area or about our dancing days.
In a way, it was the dancing that really got me into acting. I was dancing in a club in Hackney and some guy came over and asked if we wanted to be extras in a movie. So, we said yes, and I ended up watching Jamie Foreman do a scene. And he was great. I loved it. I was a printer at the time and I just thought: that’s what I want to do. So that’s it. I became an actor.
Eddie Marsan stars in the TV miniseries The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, and appears in the film Vesper, released on 21 October 2022
How important is a little bit of nonsense now and then to you?
As important as sex.
What, if anything, makes you believe in magic?
The band Pilot.
What was your last act of true cowardice?
I’m afraid to say it was when I bottled singing Backstreet Boys at karaoke.
What single thing do you miss most when you’re away from home?
Heinz baked beans.
Do you have any odd habits or rituals?
None that I would tell you about.
What is your party trick?
I can do the three-pronged tongue thing.
What is your mantra?
Arrive late, leave late.
What is your favourite smell?
What do you always carry with you?
A sense of humour.
What is your guilty pleasure?
The Tiny Meat Gang podcast.
Who is the silliest person you know?
Jack Dylan Grazer [who plays his brother in 2022’s Dreamin’ Wild].
What would be your least favourite way to die?
Of old age. Not any fun…
Seventeen-year-old Noah Jupe has had quite a career for one so young. But then you could say he was born into the business: his dad is Chris Jupe, filmmaker and producer, and his mum, actor and writer Katy Cavanagh-Jupe. With roles in the TV series The Night Manager and films Suburbicon, A Quiet Place (and its sequel) and Ford v Ferrari, he also starred in director Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, an American coming-of-age film, for which he received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. Jupe says he wants to pursue a career making movies like The Deer Hunter, Fargo and Magnolia. That sounds like a fine ambition.
*Arguably one of the most memorable (and quotable) scenes in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is when Mr Salt mumbles, ‘It’s a lot of nonsense,’ to which Wonka replies, in a sing-song voice, ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.’
When I was a really young child watching Disney films, I enjoyed the escapism. It was about being somewhere other than in the room, a distraction; and after being immersed for two hours I’d pretend to stay in that world for a while longer. I liked impersonating the characters, the manipulation of the voice and making people laugh. But I didn’t think of it as acting. And I didn’t want to be an actor. I wanted to sing, which is what I did until I ended up at drama school, where I realised that acting was going to take over as I was learning so much about myself.
But the singing helped. And it’s still in there, helping me find musicality in scripts. When you read a script you try to find the rhythm you naturally have and marry it with the rhythm that someone has written for you. My years of music have helped me pick the roles I should be doing – when the words just bounce off the page. But a script will also connect with me on an instinctive level. I’ve read heart-wrenching scripts but not felt anything, and I know if I don’t feel anything at that point it will be too much of a jump to perform it. At other times, the writing might not be heart-wrenching at all, but I’ve cried my eyes out, so I know my soul is connected to it.
I’m also looking to see whether I can trust the director. Do I feel their process is going to match mine, or if not, will it stretch me as an actor? You can almost sense that elasticity in a script – you can feel the challenge and the trepidation. Sometimes I say to myself, you can’t do it, but those are the ones I like to run towards. The ones that will change me as a human being. Because I don’t want to separate my work from my personal life. Work is helping me to grow as a woman, and to impart education and knowledge through these narratives. So I just know if it’s right. A lot of the women in my family have a knowing, and that has been passed down.
One thing I like is for my roles to have a degree of physicality. It’s a way into a character. In my first film, Fast Girls, I played an elite sprinter. I immersed myself in the preparation, and it was then that I also realised that in getting ready for a role I like to disappear as much as I can, as early as I can. Some people might not hear from me for a while, but in order to get to that place where you are fully committed you need to go away. It was all gym, track, diet.
I’d played sports at school and ran, did the high jump and long jump, so I felt I could do it. And when I look at that performance now, I feel I was just being myself. But I can see now that there is a little bit of you in the characters you play, and I’ve learned to use it. To use my background, and the things that make me happy or unhappy, or fearful. Use them as a springboard. Like when I played a single mother in a Marvel film [the pilot Maria Rambeau] and I drew on my own experience growing up with a single mother in Shepherd’s Bush.
My new film is also physical, but on a different level. The Woman King is based on a group of female warriors in Benin in the 18th century and when I read the script I could see the fighting, jumping and how vigorous it would be. The director Gina Prince-Bythewood was adamant that we had to be able to do the stunts ourselves. It’s nice when someone sees your capabilities before you do. And I didn’t see it. I was expecting stunt doubles! But as soon as a woman director sees your physique, your power, your inner strength, it’s a real compliment. I didn’t take that lightly. And I was able to use the training as a gateway into my character: the gravel in her voice, the pain she feels. I know her; she is my mate.
The Woman King was unusual as I was working with a Black female director. Usually I am not. And when I say there’s always a little bit of me in my characters, that goes for the responsibility I feel to ensure the Black experience, and the Black female experience, in particular, is portrayed authentically on screen. That often involves negotiation. When there are people who don’t look like me telling my story it can be weird, as I find myself teaching a whole life history. But if I were to step back and allow creatives to tell my story inaccurately, that would be irresponsible.
Of course, as a young actor it is hard to have agency on a film set and put your hand up and say, I disagree, or I have a better idea. But now, after a few years of doing it, I am confident enough.
That’s not to say my confidence isn’t challenged on occasion. Like when I had to play opposite Daniel Craig in No Time to Die, where I was not only representing a new 007 [her character, Nomi, has taken his code name], but a young, Black, female 007 at that. Daniel was great though, and calmed me completely by saying: ‘This is like an indie [film] with loads of money.’ He meant that we should regard it as just another day at the office, and I realised that though this was Daniel Craig and there were 24 Bond movies that came before and that this really is a cinematic institution, here I was, just showing up for work and creating art. And if I failed to have that attitude I’d be doing myself and the franchise a disservice. So, you come in, you have conversations with the creative team, you collaborate as much as possible, and it will be OK.
What also really comforted me was that we were starting the first two weeks of the shoot in Jamaica. I’m Jamaican, so there could be no more comfortable start to a job than being in Jamaica. Unless it was in Shepherd’s Bush.
The Woman King is out now
Highlights from this year’s Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.
Everyone on the mailing list is automatically entered into a draw to win this 16×12″ Studio Stamped Fine Art print of Bill Murray in London. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the list at:
Here’s Bill Murray on the set of Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion animation film directed by Wes Anderson. I was only on set for a day. Bill and I were walking around the set and I got him to lie down in this sort of Lilliputian frame, which references Gulliver’s Travels. He’s doing nothing; he looks like he’s asleep, like this giant has had the biggest night out and has fallen asleep in a little village. There aren’t a lot of photos of mine that I have framed at home. But this is one of them, because it’s a picture I keep looking at. I wonder about the narrative every time.
Technically, it’s an incredibly simple photo. I got the camera as low down as I could to the ground. It’s interesting, someone was describing how we first get our ideas of perspective when we’re little kids, and you think of watching a little boy with his toy car and he puts his eye down really low to the ground, and from the ground, his car looks big. That’s what I think of when I look at this. Get the camera as close to the ground as you can, look up, and you start to empower the subject and make it feel larger than it is.
Words by Greg Williams
GREG WILLIAMS: ANA AND ANDREW
I first met Ana in 2016 at the Cannes premiere of a movie called Hands of Stone, which was about the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, in which she played Felicidad Iglesias, the fighter’s wife. She did not speak English then. Fast forward to 2022 and the world premiere of Andrew Dominik’s film Blonde in Venice, in which she portrays Marilyn Monroe, and she is now fluent in the language. I think Blonde is an extraordinary film and Ana is extraordinary in it. She is Cuban, of Spanish heritage, not perhaps everybody’s first choice for Marilyn Monroe, but she absolutely owns the part.
Ana came to many people’s attention in Blade Runner 2049 as the VR love interest, Joi, and then in Knives Out with Daniel Craig, but the world really sat up and took notice when she put in a scene-stealing performance opposite James Bond himself, playing the Cuban/CIA spy Paloma in No Time to Die. (I thought I could detect a similarity between Paloma in Bond and her Marilyn in Blonde. I was lucky enough to have been on both sets, and I thought there was a Monroe-ish ditziness about Paloma when she first appears on screen that completely evaporates when she explodes into action. You can read Ana’s reaction to this theory below.)
Those who hadn’t been paying attention hailed her as an exciting newcomer when they saw her performance as Paloma, but she had enjoyed a lengthy career before that, with three films in Cuba before she moved to Madrid when she was 18, where she starred in a teen TV drama and made more movies. Eventually, in her mid-20s, she decided to head for Los Angeles, where she made a further 15 films (learning her lines phonetically for the first few until her English lessons paid off) before shooting Blonde for director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly, Mindhunter).
Andrew became a friend of mine in the 12 months leading up to the film’s release. He visited us at our house in LA several times, and when we got to Venice for the premiere of the movie, we hung out for four or five days and we swam together every day and shared each other’s meals (incidentally, he’s a really good swimmer). On the way to the premiere screening, I asked him what his next job was and he said there was nothing concrete on the table. Blonde had dominated his life for so long, he hadn’t been able to think beyond its completion and release. But he said that having an empty slate felt like ‘freedom’ now that the movie was finally out in the world.
The conversations recorded below were conducted in Venice, where Blonde – and Ana – received a 14-minute standing ovation. This had effectively been 14 years in the making, the length of time that had elapsed since Andrew first optioned Joyce Carol Oates’ source novel.
ANDREW DOMINIK: FINDING ANA
The big problem in making a movie about Marilyn Monroe is: who is going to play Marilyn? She is the kind of person where it doesn’t matter what the film is supposed to be about, it’ll be about her. Look at The Misfits [her last completed film, directed by John Huston, with Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift]. In Arthur Miller’s script, she’s supposed to represent a guiding star to these broken men. She’s sort of bringing them back to life. But really what’s happening on screen is that she’s a pilled-out chick in a desperate situation and there’s three creepy dudes trying to fuck her. Because with Marilyn, it doesn’t matter what the movie is supposed to be about, it becomes about the actual situation in real life. So, for Marilyn, you need an actor who, when they’re on screen, the viewer doesn’t care about anything else. They must be like the sun around which everything else revolves. And it’s a tall order to find a person who has that magnetism and charisma and who also happens to look like Marilyn Monroe. Not just a look-a-like, but someone you could believe as her and understand what the fuss has been about over the decades.
Why did I choose Ana? It was love at first sight. I first saw her in a movie called Knock Knock. It was her debut Hollywood film. She played one of two young women who invade Keanu Reeves’ home and terrorise him. It was an instant thing. I just thought: you know, that girl could play Marilyn Monroe in Blonde.
I had already been working on making a movie of the Joyce Carol Oates novel [also called Blonde, and which the author called “a fictitious biography” of Norma Jeane Baker/Marilyn Monroe] for quite a few years. The option had come and gone a few times. In fact, Joyce gave me like a free option on the book, but I still had to pay dues because Blonde is a remake of a CBS TV miniseries from 2001, which most people don’t realise. So, I had to do a deal with both Joyce and the producers of that TV show as well.
Then, when I finally met Ana, she looked nothing like her evil schoolgirl in Knock Knock. But, you know, it was a pretty easy decision to cast her. Once you’ve seen her actually do a scene, you realise she’s got a kind of emotional forcefield that radiates from her. And she can just infect you with it. Whatever Ana feels, you feel too. She traffics in feeling. And that’s what makes her so compelling.
Also, one thing I really admire about Ana is that on set she will always make the space that she needs. I shall give you an example. It was only the second day of the shoot. I already knew she was good, but obviously we were still finding our feet on set. That day she had to do a scene where Marilyn sees her mother for the first time in 10 years. And Ana has to walk in and burst into tears. So, it’s the first take and she comes in and it’s just unbelievable. She just explodes with emotion, and I just wasn’t expecting that intensity. Not on the second day of the film. I couldn’t believe it – it was more than I could have hoped for.
But then it turns out the camera operator blew the shot. And I’m like, sorry Ana, you know, we have got to do it again. So, like the pro she is, she says, OK, and she goes back and she does a second take. And it’s really good. However, it’s not as good as the first time. But before I can even say that to her, before I can even get those words out of my mouth, she’s already saying: I want another one. All right, so we roll again. You have to understand that it’s a really, really high-pressure situation because of that unusable first take. Now we have an OK second take in the can, but we all know that isn’t what the scene could be. So, there is tension in the room and she has got to deal with that and produce all this emotion for a third time.
Ana leaves the room. We can’t see her. She has gone back to her mark outside and we’re just looking at this empty space. This goes on for about 60 seconds, which is an eternity when you’re waiting for a take. Then, after what seems like an age, she reappears and she just stops at the entrance to the room. She stands in the doorway, and she just stares the whole room down. Then she walks back to her mark. And then it’s another 60 long seconds and that tension is at absolute fever pitch.
And then she goes, and she does the take which is in the final film, and it’s so moving that when I was watching, a teardrop rolled down my face and hit the monitor. And that’s what I mean about making the space. She’s not going to let anybody else get in the way. She’ll take what she needs to make that performance work and she’ll put pressure on herself if that’s what she needs to do. She is going to make the whole thing be about her, which is what actors should do. It is just really admirable and I fell in love with her all over again.
The other thing you need to appreciate about Ana is that she’s always right. Occasionally on Blonde, various departments would complain about her being difficult, right? She’s doing this and doing that and it’s not what we wanted or agreed. So, then they’d send me in there to talk some sense into her. And I’d walk into her trailer, and she’d say: Andrew, look at this, don’t you think this works better this way? And it did. She was always right.
I think other people didn’t appreciate that she had been around movie sets for a long time, she knows how they work. As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, she seems like she’s a new thing. But Ana has been working professionally since she was a teenager. So, despite her age, she’s really an industry veteran. She’s also got the instinctive feel for where the weaknesses are in a script or on a shoot and where the strengths are. She’s just a real pro.
ANA DE ARMAS: BECOMING MARILYN
I left Cuba to live in Spain when I had already done three films. It was a country I always heard a lot about, from my grandparents and wider family. It was always, Spain, Spain, Spain. So, from a young age, I was always curious about it. And, yes, there was ambition involved. I wanted to go out and do more than just Cuban films. Plus, two of my first films in Cuba were Spanish productions, so it made sense to go to Madrid, not least because of the shared language. When I first met Greg in 2016 on the set of Hands of Stone, I really couldn’t speak any English at all and then, a few years later, I am cast as Marilyn, an American icon. Looking back, it seems bananas.
I came to the project about three years ago. Andrew, of course, had been on it much longer. Fourteen years? At least 11 years before he met me. Just think of the passion and the conviction that you need to pursue something like that, to have to fight so hard for a project you believe in for 14 years. That’s not a joke. Most people give up way, way sooner than that. But he felt this movie deep inside. He had to tell the story and he knew that he had to tell it in the way he did in the final movie and it’s incredible.
Andrew, he is a great director of actors. Even though we were dealing with a very specific character – Marilyn Monroe – he gave me so much freedom to do whatever I wanted. He trusted me. We just really, really bonded. We created an incredible friendship, and we ended up feeling so comfortable with each other. We talked about everything to do with Marilyn and fame and we got to love her and this movie. We like and we respect each other and I think we both believe in each other. And the film.
One thing is for certain – if it wasn’t for Andrew, I would never have been in this movie, I would never have got to play Marilyn. I don’t think another director would have thought of me for the role. Nobody but Andrew would have taken the risk. I think it shows how progressive his thinking is, that he could see Marilyn in this Cuban actor and he wanted her for the part. I quickly learned that Andrew doesn’t compromise on anything. He just wants to do what’s best for the movie.
And we owe a lot to Brad Pitt that it got made. Andrew claims Brad worked harder as producer on this movie than on any of the films they’d made together that he’d starred in, and the stories I heard back that up. He was always in meetings, he always had Andrew’s back, he really pushed for the film, always trying to get people to give us more money. He did exactly what a producer should do.
Of course, my first task when we finally got the green light for Blonde was to research Marilyn. To try and get inside this woman’s head. I wasn’t even certain the part was right for me, to be honest. In the beginning, I thought I would be dealing with someone completely different from me. That Marilyn and I were from completely separate worlds and very different times and environments. As time went on, I found we had a lot of things in common and that there were unexpected parallels between our lives. With a lot of the emotions that hit me when I least expected it, I realised I could connect with [them] from my own experiences.
It was partly about her being a woman in what was a very exploitative environment, trying to make people take you seriously as an actor. I can relate to that. In many ways it hasn’t changed. The industry still puts you in a particular box and those are the type of roles you have to deliver. But those limitations don’t interest me that much. I don’t want to be in a box and I think Marilyn was really smart, she knew how the business worked, and she tried to get out of her box. I think she was ambitious and wanted to do better work, to grow as an actress. That’s an effort I am familiar with.
But also, we had common memories and feelings from childhood. Such as the ideas that you form about your parents on how you want to make them proud and, you know, how they love you when you’re a kid and how that love evolves and how your relationship with your parents changes once you are an adult. While we were filming, I filled my trailer with photographs of Marilyn from every stage of her career. They were up on the walls as reminders of emotions, of her state of mind at a particular point in her life. Because she was, of course, very expressive. You could see what she was thinking just by looking at her face. I think we found a suitable image for every scene we shot – there was always a picture I could go back to and see what she was going through.
So, eventually, I realised after all my investigations and research and talking to Andrew about Marilyn and all the rehearsals we did, that I was more in touch with this character than I thought. And when we started shooting on day one, I didn’t think about it anymore. When Andrew said ‘action’, I was just “on” as her and that ran until the last day. I didn’t question myself any longer about whether I was the right Marilyn or not. Not once in nine weeks.
It’s a movie about Norma Jeane, who hasn’t really been seen since Marilyn Monroe came into existence. I think once the filming was done, there was a feeling of rest, of letting go. And then, we had finished, and I had to say goodbye to her and it was off to film No Time to Die.
Greg Williams asked me if there was a crossover between Blonde and Bond. That he saw a little of Marilyn in Paloma the CIA agent. Well, what happened was this. I was scheduled to shoot No Time to Die and then Blonde, but my schedule changed because we had to wait for Daniel [Craig] to recover from an injury before we could do our action scenes, so the Cuban part was pushed back to the very end of shooting the movie. Which meant I had to do Blonde first. There were two days between finishing that film and starting on Bond, so there is no question some of Marilyn informed Paloma. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I think it just happened because I didn’t really have time to say a proper goodbye to Marilyn. I was suddenly on the plane, right to London and I was Paloma. I think the combination of characters just happened naturally. I was really happy, though, because it felt like Paloma was a Cuban version of Marilyn.
I was very nervous before the premiere. But in a good way. Good nerves. I had seen the film lots of times, but never on a big screen and never with a crowd of other people. And afterwards I was like: what just happened? It was beautiful and magical. It was a whole new experience watching it like that. I saw new places and new scenes and could really admire the work and the energy of the other actors around me. I sat next to Adrien [Brody] at the screening, and he was crying and I told him to stop it, and he said: ‘I can’t.’ Then I started sobbing and he said to stop, and I said: ‘I can’t.’ And then there was that ovation, my goodness, what a night.
I think truly I am most happy for Andrew. I feel, given all the delays and things that happened with the movie and the scary moments, that Blonde couldn’t have arrived at a better time. I mean, we thought that maybe this movie would never come out. Yet it somehow worked out to be the perfect place, the perfect year, the perfect moment. And I feel like I sat with this movie for so long that it really doesn’t matter what happens with it in terms of success. Personally, I already know how I feel about it and how proud I am of it and of Andrew. And that’s not going to change, whatever the critical or public response to it is. To me, Blonde feels more special than just a movie. It feels like we lived many lives making this film.
You are looking at Hollywood Authentic, a project that is very dear to my heart, and one that has been gestating for the past 20 years.
Over that time I have developed a particular approach to my shoots, aiming to give people an insider’s perspective and the sense of an authentic, first-person interaction with my subjects.
There is a precedent here: back in the day, movie stars would allow photographers and writers into their world. A magazine like Life, in a window that spanned the 40 years from the ‘30s to the ‘70s, would regularly publish intimate profiles of the actors of the day. This type of journalism gave us so many of the iconic images we remember. And brought the magic of the dream factory to a wider audience.
That’s what Hollywood Authentic is all about. It’s a love letter to the movie industry – and not only the one based in California. Our aim is to make you feel that you are breathing the same air as the artists.
The method, whether I’m on set or in someone’s house, is the same. Put them at their ease. No team, just my camera and video camera…
Greg Williams, Founder, Hollywood Authentic
There are many photographers who have inspired me to work the way I do today – people who managed to capture their subjects’ intimate moments. Think of William Claxton hanging out with Steve McQueen as he rode his bikes in the desert, or Edward Quinn in Sophia Loren’s room at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, or Dennis Stock documenting James Dean getting a trim in a barbershop, on his uncle’s farm or – of course – mooching through Times Square, huddled in his overcoat.
Which is why it was so great to get to spend a day on set with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe and hang out in her trailer. It made me feel I was somehow accessing a piece of history.
And though the pictures the likes of Claxton, Quinn and Stock took back then have become part of history, they are as fresh today as they were when first published. Because they show us something that is rarely seen – the person behind the myth. Ironically, these images contribute in no small measure to that myth themselves, often much more so than any shots more officially orchestrated.
I have made it my business to build relationships with the actors that I meet and prove my trustworthiness to them, so I too can capture uncontrived and spontaneous moments. Often this happens over time. Though the images of Ana in this issue relate to her latest role – as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde – they are actually the culmination of a relationship that goes back six years; one in which I saw her grow from being a little-known Cuban actor at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, who didn’t speak English, to an artist who received a 14-minute standing ovation at this year’s Venice Film Festival for playing the most famous American woman in history.
Along the way I was with her in LA when she was cast in Blade Runner 2049, buying hot dogs and getting a salsa lesson in the rain (when I asked how she’d mastered the English language in a year, she told me that it was necessary ‘when your rice and beans depend on that…’). I was also by Ana’s side while she was making Bond, and then Blonde – and then Bond again when I returned with her to No Time to Die for her mesmeric and scene-stealing turn as agent Paloma. So when we ran into each other in Venice, where she’d come for the premiere of Blonde, we hung out for several days and I shot more pictures of her and interviewed her for this edition.
But Hollywood Authentic is not just about glamorous occasions and locations. It’s also about the stories that actors don’t often tell. Take Eddie Marsan, one of Britain’s most talented performers, with whom I spent a day visiting the Hackney streets he grew up on. We looked up his childhood friend, mentor and “babysitter” Emanuel, with whom Eddie used to go dancing. And suddenly we were back there, with Eddie and Emanuel doing their moves, like a couple of teenagers.
Greg Williams, Founder, Hollywood Authentic
Aimee Lou Wood has just stepped inside her house having touched down in the UK from Toronto (and before that, Colorado and Venice), but she’s energetic and lively, just as you would expect from seeing her on screen. She’s currently in film-festival mode, promoting new project Living, and this evening she will head off for a BAFTA event. ‘I thought I would just decide that time zones aren’t real… but it didn’t quite work out that way!’ she laughs.
It’s an exciting time for the 28-year-old. Living is her first lead film role, starring alongside Bill Nighy in an adaptation of the much-loved Japanese 1952 film Ikiru, which was co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story is kept largely the same, but with the setting seamlessly transposed to post-war London. Nighy is a pen-pushing civil servant working in the town planning department of London’s County Hall, whose rather humdrum existence is upended when he is dealt a terminal cancer diagnosis and given less than a year to live. Keeping this news largely under his (bowler) hat, he searches for meaning and is ultimately inspired to do something worthwhile in his final days via an unexpected friendship with his vibrant young co-worker, Margaret Harris (Wood).
Wood shines as Harris, balancing humour and naivety with quiet ambition, and joy for the small things in life (such as her character’s first ice-cream sundae at Fortnum & Mason). Her wide-eyed pathos is genuinely affecting, and she has natural chemistry with Nighy, for whom she has nothing but praise.
‘Bill is just amazing,’ she enthuses. ‘I’ve loved him forever, so it was a bit of a moment when we went for lunch – me, him and Oliver Hermanus, the director – and I was like, “be cool, be cool!” I did have a bit of a freak out, internally, but he would never have known, thank God!’ The admiration, it seems, is rooted in her respect for his skill: she admits that pivotal scenes with Nighy didn’t require her to act ‘whatsoever’. ‘There’s a scene we have in the pub together and when I left that day I could not stop crying because I’d just witnessed something so special,’ she says. ‘It’s the best acting I’ve ever seen up close.’
Living is Wood’s first major film role, and her next big-screen outing is in the upcoming Seize Them!, starring British comedy heavyweights Nick Frost, Paul Kaye and Jessica Hynes.
Before being catapulted to fame in her BAFTA-winning role as the guileless Aimee Gibbs on Netflix megahit Sex Education, Wood dabbled in theatre while studying at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London). She returned to the stage in 2020 in a critically acclaimed version of Uncle Vanya in the West End. The Stockport native says that she was captivated by movies and shows as a youngster and recalls a theatre production of Beauty and the Beast that utterly entranced her. ‘I think I saw it about four times,’ she says, ‘but what was great was that I grew up watching everything. My mum would show me all the John Hughes movies and all the ’80s stuff. I always wanted to be Ferris Bueller! My dad showed me all the Oscar winners like Doctor Zhivago. So I had this quite nice breadth [of movies], and then obviously I started exploring my own stuff.’
Drama school was an eye-opener. ‘RADA was quite classical training and most of my peers got into acting through loving the theatre… but actually, looking back on it, it really was film for me, because I didn’t go to the theatre like other people. Some people at drama school grew up in London and would go to the Royal Court regularly from like the age of 11. When I went it was normally to see a pantomime.’
To begin with, she says, she wanted to be a writer. ‘I always had a really vivid imagination and I wrote plays and stories all the time,’ she says. But acting took over: ‘Drama helped me so much because it was where I could really express myself. It was also such a protective shield for me. Like it made school so much easier. Because I had, you know… I could be funny… it was like a comfort blanket for me.’ And it is liberating, she says: ‘Sometimes I feel more like myself when I’m acting, like there’s things I can’t express, usually, that I can through characters and from different people’s stories.’
‘I love Aimee,’ Wood says of her namesake, Aimee Gibbs in Sex Education, who has been a fan-favourite from when the series aired in 2019,due largely to the actor’s impeccable comic timing and the character’s eccentric sincerity. ‘I love how she’s so her own person and so in her own world and says things that are ridiculous with such conviction.’ Aimee’s ‘total space cadet’ character entered more complex and darker territory in season two when she became the victim of a sexual assault. The fallout has been sensitively portrayed over the course of two series.
‘I’m glad they took so much time with it and that it spanned over two seasons,’ Wood says of that plot narrative. ‘It is something that will always be with Aimee. It changed her. It’s not the kind of thing that just “goes away” and they depicted that honestly and delicately. With Sex Education, you can always guarantee that they’re gonna go deeper and deeper into a character, and Aimee was perfect for this storyline because she’s such an everywoman. She is someone who has such faith in people. It’s that sad thing where someone who is so optimistic begins to question the world. It was tectonic for her.’
Aimee Wood seems plenty optimistic herself, though, if a little tired. Warm, witty and chipper – despite the lack of sleep – she heads off for an evening at BAFTA, all smiles.
Living is released in the UK on 4 November; Gemma Billington is a writer for Brummell magazine