You can read my review of It’s Me, Sugar – the short film about the making of Some Like It Hot, starring Gemma Arterton as Marilyn – here.
Stock up on champagne and potato chips: It’s Me, Sugar, opening a new season of Urban Myths on UK TV’s Sky Arts tonight at 9pm, is part of a full evening’s programming dedicated to Marilyn, preceded by the 2011 documentary, Discovering Film: Marilyn Monroe (aka Stars of the Silver Screen), at 8 pm; and followed by Some Like It Hot at 9 pm; and two more documentaries, Billy Wilder: Nobody’s Perfect (2016) at 12:15 am, and We Remember Marilyn (1996) at 1:15 am. (Now, where’s that bourbon?)
Gemma Arterton has spoken with The Times about her role as Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, which opens the new season Sky Arts’ Urban Myths in the UK next Thursday (see trailer here.) While I don’t agree with all of Arterton’s comments – MM was not, as she claims, ‘the epitome of the casting couch’ – she does at least seem genuinely sympathetic to Marilyn’s experiences of harassment and sexism, and sensitive to the factors underlying her ‘difficult’ behaviour. (Interestingly, Arthur Miller is played by Dougray Scott, who took the same role in My Week With Marilyn.)
Thanks to Fraser Penney
“Gemma Arterton is screaming at the top of her voice. ‘F*** you!’ she roars. We’re alone in an empty changing room in a small production studio 17 miles south of London and the 32-year-old star of Tamara Drewe is tapping into her inner Marilyn Monroe. Almost unrecognisable in platinum-blond wig, blood-red lipstick and marble-white make-up, she is in between takes and casually unleashing her version of the screen legend, a volatile concoction of aching vulnerability mixed with furious hair-trigger passions.
The swearing, for instance, is delivered with jump-out-of-your-seat urgency, in the midst of an explanatory monologue about Monroe’s mid-sentence mood swings. ‘She goes from [whimpering], Oh my God, love me! straight into the opposite,’ says Arterton, before swearing, chuckling and then adding: ‘Everything I’ve read about Marilyn points to how unpredictable she was. She could change just like that. People would be afraid to knock on her door and to ask her to come out on set. Whereas I think most people think of her [adopts archetypal Monroe squeak] like a wet blanket.’
‘Marilyn used her vulnerable side to get what she wanted and to manipulate people,’ says Arterton, on a break from filming a stingingly satirical scene in which Monroe and Strasberg discuss her ‘motivation’ for opening a door (Strasberg asks Monroe if her character eats cheese and Monroe replies: ‘Only on Fridays — she gets paid on Thursdays!’). ‘That was a powerful tool that she had, to make everyone feel sorry for her. But in that power she was in control. There’s a bit in our film where they’re 37 takes in and Wilder says, “Don’t worry about it!” And she says, “Don’t worry about what?” And she actually said that! So she’s very tongue-in-cheek. She knows what she’s doing. But she plays the childlike thing. It’s part of her act.’
The film’s writer, David Cummings (a regular collaborator with Paul Whitehouse on Nurse and Happiness), adds later that ‘Marilyn said in interviews, “Sex is fine, but I don’t actually want to be objectified.” So she hired Paula Strasberg and married America’s leading playwright … Every message she gave off was, “I’m more than this sexy moron!” And I tried to put that in the script.’
Indeed, a prerequisite for Arterton’s role as ‘the blonde bombshell’, she says, was an assurance that, in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Me Too and Time’s Up, this would be a different, more engaged Monroe. ‘When I read the script I loved it, but the Weinstein stuff was happening at the same time and I really had to think twice about it,’ says Arterton. ‘Because this is a funny script about a woman who has been abused … So we talked about it and we made sure that we were all aware of that.’
‘I don’t think that it was fun at times to be inside Marilyn’s head,’ says Arterton …’But at other times it must’ve been great. Joe DiMaggio, her second husband, once said, “It’s a nightmare being married to a lightbulb.” She gave off this glow. Some depressive people are like that. There’s the dark, but also the light. And I hope that’s what we showed.'”
A preview clip of the new short film, It’s Me, Sugar, set during production of Some Like It Hot and starring Gemma Arterton as Marilyn, is now on Youtube. Heading the new season of Urban Myths on the UK satellite television channel, Sky Arts, It’s Me, Sugar will be broadcast on April 12. If you’re in the UK but not a Sky subscriber, Sky Arts is also available on the Now TV streaming service.
The series has a somewhat checkered history: the last season included an episode featuring actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, which was pulled after accusations of whitewashing. Further episodes will cover a wide range of celebrity subjects. ranging from the disappearance of Agatha Christie to the Live Aid concert in 1985.
At first glance, It’s Me, Sugar seems to perpetuate the myth of Marilyn as a dumb blonde, playing an even dumber blonde. It will be interesting to see if it covers the theory proposed by author Donald Wolfe, who witnessed her playing the scene, that Marilyn ‘played dumb’ and blew her lines on purpose, to wear down director Billy Wilder into letting her play it her way.
The first photo of Gemma Arterton in It’s Me, Sugar, the new TV comedy recreating the troubled production of Some Like It Hot, has been posted at Deadline (so at least they’ve got Marilyn’s orange robe right), along with a few more details: firstly, it’s produced by UK satellite channel Sky Arts; secondly, that Billy Wilder will be played by James Purefoy; and thirdly, it is just 30 minutes long and will be aired later this spring. You can read Gemma’s comments on the role here.
British actress Gemma Arterton has revealed that she is playing Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, a new TV film about the making of Some Like It Hot, in a recent interview for the French movie website, Allocine (I have used Google Translate, so please forgive any typos!) Very little is known about It’s Me, Sugar as yet, except that the director is Sean Foley (Mindhorn.) Personally, I like Gemma as an actress, but I would have thought the ‘behind the scenes’ angle on Marilyn’s life had already been covered in My Week With Marilyn.
The title is supposedly based on a line that Marilyn blew multiple times on the set, but the line was actually ‘Where’s that bourbon.’ The situation was also more complicated than is generally perceived, as biographer Donald Wolfe (who watched the scene being filmed) believed that Marilyn was not merely flubbing the line, but was trying to persuade director Billy Wilder to let her play the scene differently.
“It’s a strong role in which you have to cry, to be in a state of almost permanent sadness. It must not be obvious …
Yes, in fact, everything depends on the role. For example, last week I played Marilyn Monroe in a TV movie, a comedy. There was a scene in which I had to cry and I could not, because it was a comedy. I was in this madness all the time.
Can you tell us more about this project you were talking about in which you play Marilyn Monroe?
It’s called It’s Me, Sugar. It’s about the movie Some Like It Hot. Marilyn Monroe was in a really troubled period of her life. She took a lot of drugs, drank a lot. She was the biggest star in the world, she had a lot of attention on her, a lot of pressure. She is great in the movie. But there is a scene, when she comes to the door, she says, ‘It’s me, Sugar.’ It took 47 shots to make this scene. The film is about that moment, the crisis she had. It’s funny because it’s stupid not to be able to say ‘It’s me, Sugar’. She said all the variations. It’s tragic too.
It’s a film period that I love. Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors. I have always had a fascination for Marilyn Monroe. The director is Sean Foley. He does mostly theater, comedy usually. But he made a film last year called Mindhorn, which was a bizarre English comedy. He was a comedian before. I find that directors who have done comedy before do better. It’s hard to do a good comedy, because it takes rhythm. It’s really difficult.”
Thanks to MM Fan Club Belgium