Keanu Reeves' critically panned erotic thriller "Knock Knock" is entirely forgettable. But the film starring then-newcomer Ana de Armas has improbably set the stage for an unforgettable portrayal of Marilyn Monroe.
Somehow, when "Blonde" writer and director Andrew Dominik saw 2015's "Knock Knock," he knew that Cuban-born de Armas, who played one-half of the seductive and dangerous duo terrorizing Reeves, had what it took to portray screen icon Monroe.
Magically, de Armas has brought this unlikely vision to life in "Blonde," which arrives Wednesday on Netflix amid critical praise for her performance in the controversial NC-17 film.
"It's very strange," says de Armas, 34. "Andrew saw 'Knock Knock' and said that I had this Marilyn quality. That it was exactly what I looked like. It feels like serendipity because when I did that movie, my English was nonexistent almost. So it was kind of meant to be that for some reason we met at the right time."
"I knew I had a lot of work creating this icon. but I felt like I knew what was going on underneath, the core of who she was," says de Armas. "I was just happy that Andrew focused on the performance, not the accent, not the brown hair. He was just thinking, 'Oh, she feels like Marilyn.' "
Making the Monroe connection was "pretty obvious," Dominik insists. "Ana has an emotional force field around her. Her feelings can just fill up the room."
De Armas began intensive voice training to mask her accent and capture Monroe's famous voice, even while shooting "Knives Out" in 2018. But one of her first tasks before shooting began in 2019 was to touch base with Monroe herself.
Dominik and his Monroe actress visited the star's famed Westwood Memorial Park crypt in Los Angeles, pleading with the guard to let them in while a private service took place nearby. The Southern California weather was oddly but suitably moodily raining.
"There was lipstick all over the stone and fresh flowers" left by fans, de Armas remembers about 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."
Each day shooting "Blonde," de Armas would sit in the makeup chair for 3½ hours for the transformation into Monroe throughout each phase of her adult life.
"There was one prosthetic on my forehead to cover my hairline. The rest was was just makeup and tons of eyelashes." says de Armas, who would slip into the chair at 4:30 a.m. and sleep with "someone holding my head up to do the makeup. But I would do the lips every day. That was part of the process I had to do. That was the cherry on top."
Filming took place in Los Angeles, not far from the many homes in which young Norma Jeane grew up with her troubled single mother. Some of their actual former residences were used in "Blonde," with Monroe's final moments shot in the very room where the legend died in 1962.
De Armas, who applied Monroe's favorite Chanel No. 5 perfume on her wrists each day, says it was impossible not to feel the star's presence.
"We all felt it because it was so powerful. She's all over Los Angeles, even in the car I was driving, which is the same (model) she drove, in the house where she lived and the room where she died," says de Armas. "It's a very intense, heavy story. But I think it was beautiful as well. Because I felt closer to her."
"Blonde" can be harrowing to watch as Monroe struggles through well-documented personal problems with the men in her life. While the story is historical fiction, it delves into her abusive union with Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), a sorrow-filled marriage to playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody) and a lurid affair with President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
De Armas defends the often uncomfortable viewing. It demonstrates Monroe's difficulties under bright lights dealing with the unrelenting demands of the men in her life, the film studios and even the fans.
"No one is meant to live with that pressure, As the audience, we need to understand that we participated in that pressure," says de Armas. "You need to show it to understand the struggle and how hard she tried. She just wanted to be loved and respected."
Despite the often painful moments depicted, de Armas believes Monroe would approve of the film. Before filming, the cast and crew signed a giant postcard for Monroe that was placed near the star's grave.
"Everyone felt lucky to participate in this movie, contributing somehow to her legacy by telling something that, even though it's fictional, feels very truthful," says de Armas. "People are still obsessed with Marilyn today. But this closes the circle in a way. Because you're now showing who this woman was."