It's not hard to stomach Eddie Redmayne as a 23-year-old Colin Clark, the set gofer a 31-year-old Marilyn Monroe picked out to be her constant companion. At 29, Redmayne's chiseled looks carry a glimmer of the boy next door, comforting to someone as far from her comfort zone as Monroe was on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl."
"My Week with Marilyn" is based on Clark's memoir, "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me," and follows his observations of and close interactions with the icon as she drove her director/co-star, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), mad, quarreled with then-husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and dragged the production along with her. The fragile Marilyn we see here, played by Michelle Williams, is funneled through Clark's view of her, as he becomes privy to Monroe's alternately depressed and carefree moments while sharing her bed.
Up to this point, the English actor has stayed fairly inconspicuous in his film choices, with supporting roles in dark dramas including "The Good Shepherd," "Savage Grace" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." "Marilyn" both does and doesn't fall into this category -- Redmayne has a sizeable presence in a buzzed-about film, but his character inevitably remains of peripheral concern next to Marilyn. His name makes a bigger impression in the theater circle -- Redmayne's turn as Rothko's assistant in "Red" earned him the 2010 Olivier Award for best supporting actor; when he reprised the role on Broadway, he added a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.
But even with the theater's equivalent of an Oscar, Redmayne isn't ready to rest on his laurels. Counter to conventional wisdom, Redmayne suggests that, as far as "real acting" is concerned, theater is not the living end it's made out to be, and film can be a tricky, nuanced beast to wrangle in its own right -- one he's currently learning how to wrangle. He won't have to choose sides anytime soon, as he was cast earlier this month in a film musical adaptation of "Les Miserables," a happy marriage of stage and screen.
In a conversation with The Huffington Post, Redmayne -- who was affable, charming and well-mannered, all over the phone -- talked doing almost-sex scenes with Michelle Williams, which old screen legend he would have an affair with and why "My Week with Marilyn" is so very meta.
Obviously Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh had footage to work with for their roles. You were also playing a real person, but you didn't have that advantage. Can you explain how you put the character together, and whether you felt that you had a different task at hand?
I felt that Kenneth and Michelle had a much larger challenge recreating those iconic figures. On this film, [I had] not only "The Prince and the Showgirl and Me," but also the book "My Week with Marilyn," so it's kind of a dream, because all the research you should be going and doing yourself is laid out there for you. The only slightly worrying moment for me was, there was one day where we were doing a scene and suddenly I was escorted off set and introduced to Collette, who was Colin Clark's twin sister, and his widow and his son. Suddenly I was incredibly fraught, but they were really positive and generous, so it was quite a lovely experience.
Did you find it hard to play off of someone who is so in character -- did you ever feel like you were actually acting with Marilyn Monroe?
What was one of the most fascinating parts of making this film was the sort of meta quality of it, this idea of life imitating art. We were shooting in a studio where they shot the "The Prince and the Showgirl." Michelle William's dressing room was Marilyn's dressing room. There was a moment where I took her round Colin Clark's old school which, completely coincidentally happened to be my old school [Eton]. Colin Clark was taking Marilyn Monroe around, and even though all the Eton schoolboys where playing, all the Eton schoolboys were also gagging to find out what Michelle was like. But you're right, Michelle is so formidable in the part and there were moments where it certainly felt electric, yeah.
On that note, is it harder to film almost sex scenes or full-on sex scenes?
All sex scenes are pretty painful. They're always, in the cliched way, an actor's nightmare. These love scenes, there was a tenderness to them, and they certainly were the most challenging scenes because they're fragile little scenes, and Marilyn's mind frame at that moment is slightly all over the place. I think there's a sense of Colin being in some ways the lowest person on set, and yet in that moment he's almost trying to father, as well as clearly, he's fallen for her deeply.
Do you think the situation at hand -- the lowest person with the star -- is that something you could imagine happening on a set?
I sort of can because actors on film sets can be complicated people. They're such hierarchical things, film sets, they're sort of mini societies. Often they're incredibly political places. So often, someone is starting out in the industry and has a freshness and vibrancy and still an excitement with what the process is. That's really refreshing for an actor who is jaded or has perhaps lost that instinctive love. So I can definitely see how those two worlds could meet, yeah.
If you could have an affair with any of the old screen legends, who would it be?
Ooh! Who would it be? That's a really good question. I'm actually so embarrassed about my lack of education as far as old films are concerned, I can't answer it appropriately! The great thing about this film was it gave me the excuse to watch a lot of her work and I definitely was under Marilyn's spell by the end. I think I prefer blondes.
In this film in particular, you worked with a lot of film-theater hybrids, and you yourself have a theater background. Is there a type of work that you're focusing on, or do you enjoy this sort of mix?
Making a film or doing a play are completely different experiences and entirely fulfilling, but completely unique. I also think one complements the other. People often say that theater is about flexing your muscles, and is actually real acting, whereas I sort of disagree. I started in theater, and when I got into film I didn't do a play for about four years. And when I went back to doing a play, the experience I'd had filming had sort of educated [me], because it's when you're doing anything histrionic or excessive, it's so visible that you have to learn to pare all that down. So often people go, "actors have to go back to the theater to remind themselves"… but it's a sort of symbiosis really.
Do you feel that film is a little more genuine in that way?
It depends on the space. I'm lucky enough, I'm about to do a play in London in a place called the Donmar Warehouse -- it's an extraordinary theater that only has about 250 seats and the audience are on three sides. So what's lovely about that space for actors, it's of mixture of these two worlds. The audience can see into your eyes like they can on film, and yet you have all the benefits of live performance.
You narrate much of the film, and I was wondering what it was like doing a voiceover and then hearing yourself later? Is it stranger than hearing yourself while acting?
Everything about filmmaking is incredibly weird, and there's nothing natural about watching yourself on the big screen or hearing your voice. It's that same thing that you feel when you watch yourself on a video camera and you hate the sound of your voice -- it's that times 800. And I genuinely think actors never get used to it. There's nothing more odd than watching yourself being watched by lots of other people. Now that's meta on about 800 levels.
"My Week with Marilyn" is out Wednesday. Watch the trailer: