Calling Simon Curtis a first-time director isn’t exactly accurate, as the British filmmaker has been directing and producing — and winning awards for — work for television for 20 years. But yes, “My Week With Marilyn” is technically his first feature film. The film follows an eager newcomer (Eddie Redmayne) as he lands his first job in show business, serving as a lowly third assistant director on Sir Lawrence Olivier’s collaboration with Marilyn Monroe, “the Prince and the Showgirl.” Curtis’ film has already earned impressive acclaim — particularly for Michelle Williams’ transformative performance as Monroe — and it heads into awards season under the stewardship of Harvey Weinstein. Not too shabby for a newcomer.
Can you talk about the casting of Michelle Williams as Marilyn?
All I can say is I just went with an instinct. I think she’s a brilliant actress — a brilliant actress for bringing psychological texture to her parts — and I really like her. It was just a hunch. We met a year before we started and just had a dialogue going there. We’re both sort of addicts of material and, “Have you read this? Have you seen that? I’ve read this article about bipolar, you should read that.” And then when she came to London she was working with a choreographer and all sorts of people, and it just became this sort of project.
It’s also fascinating to have Sir Lawrence Olivier as the villain, in a sense.
I think he’s definitely flawed, but I hope one ends up with sympathy for him. I didn’t think of him in the sense of an antagonist, I just wish he’d done a better job supporting Marilyn. Even though she would drive anyone crazy in terms of lateness and all that, his job was to support her.
The film deals a lot with the misconceptions about Marilyn and her intelligence level that still persist today.
Her hunger to be taken seriously as an actress — her hunger to be taken seriously, full stop — was obviously a huge driving force at this time in her life. And I love the audience when Olivier says, “Well, can’t you just be sexy?” There’s an audible groan. People totally get the scale of that mistake. And I do hope that people come out sympathizing with her.
Had you considered casting your wife, Elizabeth McGovern, as Vivien Leigh?
Well, she was making “Downton Abbey” so she wasn’t really available. But let’s put it this way, I know a lot about an actress, a beautiful woman, who is made to feel like her moment has passed now that she’s in her 40s. I love that element of Vivien Leigh and think there should be that sense that should Marilyn have lived to 43, maybe she would’ve felt the same.
That seems so harsh in the film, but it hasn’t really changed that much today.
Well, it’s the youth-obsessed thing. But I’ve actually had a really good time working with some senior actresses — Judi [Dench] or Eileen Atkins or Julie Walters. I love experience. And I feel that way about myself, too. I’m in my 50s directing my first film, but a lot of the television I’ve done has been a very good preparation for this. Not to that new directors shouldn’t be encouraged all the time, but equally people who’ve been around a bit and have a family or have been in a long-term marriage or whatever, these are things that can help the work.
How is it as a “first-time director”?
Well, this is very different. It taught me that when you choose a film as a director you better be damn sure it’s going to be something you can feel passionate about. Because you’re going to be in a lot of test-screenings and you’re going to be under a lot of scrutiny. And I’ve been on the journey with Harvey [Weinstein], and his passion for the film has been second-to-none, do you know what I mean?
We’re heading into awards season, of course. Do you process that at all, the early chatter?
Well, I certainly pay attention. I don’t read it all because it would give me a nervous breakdown, but obviously this is a big year for films, isn’t it? Much bigger than last year. Certainly with Michelle, it has been very exciting on the road with this film. People are genuinely excited to see this great American actress take on this great American icon and deliver. They feel excited about that.
Awards season is what Harvey Weinstein is known for.
Yeah, but he’s got a big year himself as well. Also, it was a big year last year. He’s got a number of films in play, hasn’t he? But I couldn’t ask for more passion from him for this. His support and ideas on this film have made it a better film, I’ll say that without any shadow of doubt.