Ana de Armas on her unlikely journey

Keanu Reeves’ erotic thriller “Knock Knock” is totally forgettable. But the film starring then-newcomer Ana de Armas unlikely set the stage for an unforgettable portrayal of Marilyn Monroe.

Somehow, when “Blonde” writer and director Andrew Dominik saw “Knock Knock” in 2015, he knew that Cuban-born de Armas, who played half the seductive and dangerous duo terrorizing Reeves, had what it took to portray screen icon Monroe.

Magically, de Armas brought that unlikely vision to life in “Blonde,” which arrives on Netflix Wednesday amid critical acclaim for her performance in the controversial film NC-17.

“It’s very strange,” said de Armas, 34. “Andrew saw ‘Knock Knock’ and said I had this Marilyn quality. That was exactly what I sounded like. It’s like serendipity because when I did that movie, my English was almost non-existent. So it was kind of meant to be that, for some reason, we met at the right time.

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The film spent years in pre-production before ‘Knives Out’ and ‘No Time to Die’ star Armas could read Dominik’s ‘Blonde’ script, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel . Despite obvious differences ranging from culture to hair color, de Armas felt an instant connection to Norma Jeane, who would become a superstar as Monroe but fall victim to the Hollywood machine before dying of a barbiturate overdose. at 36 years old.

“I knew I had a lot of work to create this icon, but I felt like I knew what was going on underneath, the core of who she was,” de Armas said. “I was just happy that Andrew was focusing on the performance, not the accent, not the brown hair. He was just thinking, ‘Oh, she looks like Marilyn.’ “

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Ana de Armas forged an intense connection with Marilyn Monroe during filming "Blond": "I felt like I knew what was going on underneath, the heart of who she was."

Making the Monroe connection was “pretty obvious,” insists Dominik. “Ana has an emotional force field around her. Her feelings can fill the room.”

De Armas began intensive vocal training to mask his accent and capture Monroe’s famous voice, even while filming “Knives Out” in 2018. But one of his first tasks before filming began in 2019 was to contact Monroe herself.

Dominik and his actress Monroe visited the famed Westwood Memorial Park star’s crypt in Los Angeles, begging the guard to let them in as a private service was held nearby. The Southern California weather was oddly but suitably rainy.

“There was lipstick all over the stone and fresh flowers” left by fans, de Armas recalled of Monroe’s final resting place. “She has this little bench in front, so we just sat there and touched her. It was very intimate and beautiful.”

Every day, while filming “Blonde,” de Armas would sit in the makeup chair for 3 1/2 hours to transform into Monroe at every stage of her adult life.

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Ana de Armas arrives for the "Blond" world premiere during the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

“There was a prosthesis on my forehead to cover my hairline. The rest was just makeup and tons of eyelashes.” said de Armas, who slid into the chair at 4:30 a.m. and slept with “someone who held my head to do my makeup. But I did the lips every day. It was part of the process that I had to do. That was the icing on the cake.”

Filming took place in Los Angeles, not far from the many homes young Norma Jeane grew up in with her troubled single mother. Some of their former real-life residences were used in “Blonde,” with Monroe’s final moments filmed in the very room where the legend died in 1962.

De Armas, who applied Monroe’s favorite Chanel No. 5 perfume to her wrists every day, says it was impossible not to feel the star’s presence.

“We all felt it because it was so powerful. She’s everywhere in LA, even in the car I was driving, which is the same (model) she was driving, in the house where she lived and the room where she died,” de Armas said. “It’s a very intense and heavy story. But I think it was also beautiful. Because I felt closer to her.”

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Ana de Armas (right) impressed her "Blond" director with her role in the years 2015 "Knock Knock," with Lorenza Izzo (left) and Keanu Reeves (center).

“Blonde” can be painful to watch as Monroe grapples with well-documented personal issues with the men in her life. Although the story is historical fiction, it delves into her abusive union with Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), a heartbreak-filled marriage to playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), and a sinister affair with President John F. Kennedy ( Caspar Phillipson).

De Armas defends the often uncomfortable viewing. It demonstrates Monroe’s struggles under bright lights in the face of relentless demands from the men in her life, movie studios, and even fans.

“Nobody is supposed to live with this pressure. As an audience, we have to understand that we participated in this pressure,” says de Armas. “You have to show it to understand wrestling and how hard she tried. She just wanted to be loved and respected.”

Despite the often painful moments depicted, de Armas thinks Monroe would approve of the film. Before filming, the cast and crew signed a giant postcard for Monroe which was placed near the star’s grave.

“Everyone felt lucky to be part of this film, contributing in some way to its legacy by telling something that, even though it’s fictional, feels very truthful,” says de Armas. “People are still obsessed with Marilyn today. But that kind of closes the loop. Because now you show who that woman was.”

Contributor: Patrick Ryan

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