The council of foreign relations is the nickname we have given the weekly meeting between my three very hip, very cool daughters and their very unhip, uncool dad. Once a week, school or business is torpedoed and we meet in a restaurant (I have a fourth daughter, but at 14 months she would destroy any restaurant because she has more destructive moves than Jackie Chan and is way faster).
About a year ago, my mother, their grandmother, the infamous Miriam Weinstein, decided to drop by. Miriam of course, is the one we named Miramax after. By the way, when Disney kept the name Miramax, I always thought my mom was going to take on Michael Eisner. To her threats, Bob and I always said "you can't do that" and she said, "yes I can, I'm right and he's wrong, and that name is synonymous with a certain kind of filmmaking. And your father. And besides, if they take me into custody, I'll get off".
Bob and I replied, "how would you get off?"
"Because I know Bert Fields and David Boies", she replied. That in a nutshell is Miriam. Lest anyone wonder where Bob and I get it from. As the conversation progressed my daughters complained about too much homework they had and how tough their teachers were. Of course I'm on their side and I tell them that I think homework is way overrated.
Then, as the evening ended, Miriam asked me, "why are you making a movie about Marilyn Monroe? Hasn't everything been said on that subject already?" Whereupon, I tell my mom that a number of years ago I had read two books by Colin Clark. Those being The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me and My Week with Marilyn; both books about his experience making the movie when she came to London in 1956 and also detailing his fairytale romance and magical week with her. This all happened because her husband, Arthur Miller had an argument with her and left her in the middle of their honeymoon. As I progressed the story, Miriam was stunned. "I thought there were three main people in her life, the agent, what was his name?", she continued, "oh yeah Johnny Hyde, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Who is this Colin Clark?"
I told Mom and the kids that sometimes movies are snapshots of little incidents. Actual moments in time that give you insight into a character. My daughters said dad, you made a movie like that, bringing up The King's Speech, to which I replied, yes, a footnote with giant implications. The story of the king of England who stuttered and overcame his speech impediment. Here, I told my gang, was another snapshot. A beautiful, but mature Marilyn Monroe at age 30, allowing herself to be innocent for once swept away by a younger man. My middle daughter then said, it reminded her of Roman Holiday.
Now in my house, Roman Holiday holds a special place. My daughters have always had a phobia of black and white movies. Black and white to them meant old. In fact, black and white to them meant very old, the kind of movies their dad would watch. The only thing worse than black and white to them was subtitles.
So one night, I said to them that if they could make it through this old movie, I'd take them all to the mall and buy them each a gift at their favorite store. The movie was Roman Holiday. They loved the movie so much they watched it again and gave me a pass at the mall. Of course, Roman Holiday is the story of a young princess, played by Audrey Hepburn, who sneaks out the palace window and has a beautiful night in Rome alongside a dashing American reporter played by Gregory Peck. As I told my daughters the story, I explained that My Week With Marilyn has similarities to Roman Holiday.
I told the girls that I have a weakness for movies about the creative process. They reminded me that Shakespeare in Love was about writing Romeo and Juliet and Finding Neverland explored how Sir James Peter Barrie wrote Peter Pan. Those were the movies they remembered of mine about the creative process. I told them that this new one was about the making of a fun, very clumsy movie, but that the way Colin Clark described making the movie gave you great insight and poked fun at the whole movie process. Sometimes, like a needle to a balloon, I said.
My girls had an idea of who Marilyn Monroe was, but they certainly did not know who Sir Laurence Olivier was. Nor did they have any idea about method acting or classic acting. But I told them the clash provided a lot of comedy in the piece and that the movie had huge laughs and hopefully, if I can convince everybody, maybe a couple of fun musical numbers, too. As I went around the room, looking for a thumbs up, I saw their faces reluctant to give it to me. So I pulled out the trump card. Michelle Williams. Now my girls are lucky enough to know Michelle Williams and they know her daughter too. She is as sweet to my daughters as she is to her own. When a hair colorist had made a mistake on one of the girls, Michelle did an operation worthy of Bond, James Bond, and got it all sorted and fixed. In my house, that made her a folk hero. And that proved to be the closer.
So off we went to London with Simon Curtis directing and David Parfitt producing. We assembled an all-star cast with Kenneth Branagh as Olivier and Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. We got the effervescent Emma Watson, the charming Dominic Cooper, the dashing Dougray Scott and the vivacious Julia Ormond. To play Colin Clark, we enlisted the Tony award winning Eddie Redmayne. In due time, every girl on the set fell in love with. He is an actor of great vulnerability and also panache, both vital requirements to play Colin Clark.
Simon Curtis wanted to immerse the film in reality so we shot it at the locations that it took place in real life. So Windsor Castle was Windsor Castle. The aristocratic British School for Boys was Eton. No one ever gets to film in these locations, yet magic strings were pulled and red tape disappeared. The rumor was that somehow the royal family pulled those strings. In 1956 Marilyn Monroe met the Queen at a royal premiere. You can watch some of this footage on YouTube. They had a wonderful rapport and it was reported in all the British newspapers that they got along famously. A fascinating footnote about Marilyn meeting the Queen was that they were the exact same age. Imagine, Marilyn in her 80's
Pinewood Studios was where the original film The Prince and the Showgirl was made and lo and behold Simon arranges for Michelle Williams to have Marilyn Monroe's dressing room. In the film there is a magic moment when Marilyn Monroe comes down to greet the company of players who are making this film. When the door opened to Marilyn/Michelle's dressing room and she came out in a beautiful gown, something very similar to what Marilyn wore, and greeted Kenneth, Toby, Derek, Judi, Dougray, Julia and Eddie, you could hear a pin drop. The applause that you hear in the movie for Marilyn's entrance was just as real for Michelle's entrance as Marilyn. Everyday Michelle performed alchemy to transform into Monroe. Her use of makeup was as splendid as it was detailed. She practiced the voice, the walk, the wiggle, the waddle, the singing and the dancing.
For anybody who loves movies, this is a movie about making movies. We see Colin Clark start to work his way from a lowly third assistant director to finally becoming Laurence Oliver's right hand man on set (later on in life, Clark became a key executive at Olivier's production company and finally a great documentary filmmaker, producer, writer, director and author).
He witnesses Marilyn's fateful argument when Arthur Miller (after only 30 days of marriage) writes in his journal that it is impossible to live with Monroe. That the paparazzi had rendered him soulless. They fight, she ends up alone.
Colin then tells Marilyn the truth about herself. Through the relationship of making the movie, they become friends and eventually become romantic.
All the comedy that Simon intended to be in the film is there. Watching Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams' duel of wits is bloody entertaining. Nothing is more satisfying to me than watching an audience reaction to a movie. We screened the final cut of Marilyn to Michelle in Detroit where she was shooting Sam Raimi's Oz when a packed theater erupted into huge laughter, but the best sight was watching Michelle's laughter too.
The finished movie was rated R. A problem for an 8-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old. But I decided to take them to the New York Film Festival with their grandmother where My Week With Marilyn was the centerpiece and the film had its official premiere. It had been one year since that dinner at Cipriani when I got the green light to get involved in the film. So there I was, presenting an R-rated movie to my daughters. Much less their grandmother who tends to get rather conservative over things like that. When the lights went down, the magic began and I could hear the laughter and cheers from my girls. Even though they didn't really know who Marilyn Monroe or Laurence Olivier were, they too were laughing at those jokes. The older one whispered Roman Holiday and that from watching this movie she thought that Michelle Williams was a modern day Audrey Hepburn.
Miriam, in her true parlance (even though she'd been told the story ten times), said she had no idea that Marilyn Monroe fell in love with a 23-year-old boy. Then grandma said to her daughters, "you should not be seeing an R-rated movie, you could get in trouble for that".
To this I responded, "don't worry Mom, I know Bert Fields and David Boies too."
As we filed out of the theater, the girls started talking about Marilyn Monroe saying she was a strong independent woman. They said she was smart, funny and determined. They said she had a kind streak in her. That she was misunderstood and that they could feel her warmth.
They said that in the 1950s, when women were just going along with the status quo, she stood out. That she was rebellious, but had a sense of humor about it and was thus very effective.
And then finally, the corker. They said Marilyn Monroe was cool and that as a result, I was kind of cool for making the movie.
The epilogue to the story, is that two weeks ago, Katy Perry saw the film and tweeted about how much she liked it. When I told my girls she wanted to meet me they said, "you're not cool enough to meet Katy Perry," and that they should go in my place. As a father of four daughters, I've learned that COOL is a gift that only comes occasionally, but for a short time, Marilyn Monroe made dad cool.