Actress Charlotte Sullivan looks back on her role as Marilyn in the 2011 TV mini-series, The Kennedys, in an interview for Monsters and Critics. The show received mixed reviews – I thought Charlotte did her best with a poorly-written character – and her comments reveal the challenges of playing someone as iconic as Marilyn.
“I played a drug addict for my husband in this one film, and it took me five minutes to get ready. But Marilyn Monroe took like two and a half hours! The whole team of people who put me together for that…they are just the most insanely talented people.
Also, the thing with the Marilyn look was it’s such a contrived beauty, which is actually what I love about it. This is something like what Dita von Teese does. I love her so much, she believes everybody can be glamorous.
But playing Marilyn…I got a lot of flack for that. I got a lot of hate for that. It’s a poisoned chalice. First of all, the opportunity to play that kind of character is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. Especially being surrounded by such a cast, it was a spectacular opportunity.
I knew going into it I would be eviscerated because there are so many people obsessed with her, in love with her, and I can’t live up to that. You just have to be confident. I think the thing with me during that particular time in my life was I didn’t have any confidence. I kind of harness that because Marilyn didn’t have any either.
What do I have in common with this woman? I know that she desperately wanted to be thought of as a good actress, and that’s something I have always wanted – to be great at what I do. I struggled, there have been times I feel good about my work then I lose it. It’s a really strange art form.”
“Many of the flashbacks are focused around Marilyn Monroe. Interestingly, Jack and Marilyn are never shown together. Rather, it’s Bobby who primarily interacts with the starlet. She is depicted as a volatile sex kitten (which she was at times) but without time to delve deeper into her story, she comes across as a one-dimensional crazy woman rather than the troubled, complicated young woman she was.”
Her scenes reminded me of another mini-series, Blonde (starring Poppy Montgomery.) She looked more like Marilyn circa 1952 than in 1961.
I felt that Ms Sullivan, who has spoken of her admiration for Marilyn, did the best she could in a very limited role. But as a whole, The Kennedys seemed more like daytime soap opera than prime-time drama to me – the characters and situations just weren’t convincing.
Actress Charlotte Sullivan has been talking about her role as Marilyn in The Kennedys:
“There’s a big difference between playing (Monroe) in a movie and playing her at home. With my audition, it could have gone either way, but I didn’t put on ‘the voice’. I had watched her early movies and she didn’t have that voice. It wasn’t until a few movies into her career that she discovered that thing she could do…I really fell in love with her. I liked her very much prior to doing this, but researching her extensively, with her depression and her sadness, I just found her to be a stunning, smart, misunderstood person.”
“I didn’t do any research on the Kennedys – I focused all my research on her. And I wanted to make her as real as humanly possible, because I think you think of her as this movie star. And she was a really beautiful human, yes, but also one of the most compelling and intelligent human beings. I obviously became obsessed with YouTube, but I also tried to read as many books as possible. Unfortunately, her diary [was published] after we shot, which broke my heart into a million pieces. I wanted that diary so badly! But even with all the information that’s out there, no one will ever know her.”
The Wall Street Journal has published a user’s guide to The Kennedys, an 8-part TV mini series that will premiere on the US Reelz Channel next month. Marilyn (played by Charlotte Sullivan) appears, albeit via flashback, in the penultimate episode:
It’s November 22, 1963—the last day of JFK’s life. He’s in Texas to meet with officials from the state’s Democratic Party. A flashback shows Jackie giving birth, but the baby soon dies. Another flashback shows Bobby visiting Marilyn Monroe to persuade her to end her affair with JFK. She is later found dead of a drug overdose. Back in the present, JFK and Jackie share a moment of mutual love while en route to Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald awaits with his rifle. As the motorcade passes through the streets, Oswald shoots, killing JFK. Afterward, Lyndon Johnson calls Bobby, demanding that he immediately be sworn in as President.
Marilyn Monroe, as played by Canadian actress Charlotte Sullivan, will feature in the upcoming TV mini-series, The Kennedys, alongside Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes.
The Kennedys is produced by Joel Surnow – ‘an outspoken Republican, friend to Rush Limbaugh, and creator of 24′, according to Toronto Life. It has already been condemned as a ‘character assassination’ by Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen.
After its completion, the US History Channel decided that The Kennedys ‘is not a fit for the History brand’. It will now be shown on cable television instead.
Sullivan, 27, played the bully Marion Hawthorne in Harriet the Spy (1996.) More recently, she has appeared in the Canadian TV series, Rookie Blue. According to Charlotte’s official website, ‘Her porcelain skin and stunning grace belies a wicked sense of humour and a twisted addiction to her muse, the gory, cryptic and macabre world of Tim Burton but still she balances all this with a glamour from a time long gone.’
If the trailer is anything to go by, The Kennedys will be a splashy, melodramatic portrait of America’s onetime first family. Let’s just hope that Marilyn will be treated with respect.