11/21/2011 10:20 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2012

Interview: Director Simon Curtis discusses My Week with Marilyn

Simon Curtis bristles a little when asked why, having directed so extensively in television and produced numerous films, it took him so long to direct a feature film himself.

"I wanted to make films, but as a director, I gravitated to material that I believed in, with people I wanted to work with," he says. He mentions the award-winning TV miniseries Cranford, with a cast that included Dames Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce, among others - obviously nothing to sneeze at.

"You don't make a film unless you're passionate about it," he adds. "I was holding out for something that did that for me. It's a process you couldn't go through if you didn't genuinely believe in the material."

The movie that finally took him in that direction? My Week with Marilyn, opening in limited release Wednesday (11/23/11), is Curtis' mash note - by way of Colin Clark's memoirs - to Marilyn Monroe, Sir Laurence Olivier and a bygone era.

The film, based on Clark's book, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me, chronicles the 1956 encounter between Olivier, who directed and starred, and Monroe, who starred and produced, on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark, working as an assistant to Olivier, wound up as the one person on the production to whom the troubled Monroe would confide.

"This is a film I was passionate to make," Curtis says. "It's a love letter to movie-making. I read the book when it came out and it was something I'd had in mind for a while. I knew people had tried to make it in the past and inquired about the rights, which were available. Then I got the BBC and the U.K. Film Council to pay for a script."

Curtis could think of only one actress to play Monroe: Michelle Williams. Fortunately, she agreed.

"I've always loved her work," Curtis, 50, says. "She was a key factor; otherwise, I could not do the picture. I was telling a story about when Marilyn Monroe was 30. I was ecstatic when Michelle said she wanted to do it. From the first time I met her, I was confident she could do it. I remember meeting her and praying she'd say yes."

Similarly, Curtis had "a very short list" of actors he could imagine playing Olivier - and Kenneth Branagh was at the top of it.

This interview continues on my website.