Blonde was one of the most divisive films of the year, but Oscar voters were united in their feelings about lead Ana de Armas: She scored a Best Actress nomination for her harrowing turn as a fictionalized Marilyn Monroe — the only nomination for the Andrew Dominik film.
Best Actress is perhaps the toughest category at the Oscars: de Armas’ competition includes Care Blanchett for Tár, Andrea Riseborough for To Leslie, Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans, and Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s widely seen as a tossup between Blanchett, who has won two Oscars in the past (lead actress for Blue Jasmine and supporting for The Aviator), and Yeoh, who has never been nominated before.
Blonde was one of the most audacious films of the year, and found de Armas channeling Monroe to present her as a tortured child-woman who never knew her father, longed for the love of her mentally ill mother, and reshaped herself in a desperate search for approval from men. Critics objected that she seemed disempowered and to lack agency (which could be truthfully set of many 1950s and ’60s actresses brought up in a studio system designed to deny them power and agency) and the film holds a mere 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a MovieMaker cover story, Ana de Armas said she opened herself up to Monroe’s pain.
“It was a lot. I felt it. I was going through it, you know? I felt heavy those days. I felt tired. But that only made me feel even more empathy for her, and understanding, because I went through it for nine weeks,” she says. “I can tell you, it was exhausting to be her. So I could only imagine what it was like to be her for 36 years, at that level of intensity and that lack of support.”
She added: “Having the director I had and the partners that I had with me, incredible actors next to me, I couldn’t have been in a better environment to just go to these dark places and allow myself to feel those things… You watch the movie and you have this feeling of actually understanding this woman. It’s about connecting with her, more than just an imitation.”
In a sign of how long and winding a Hollywood career path can be, Dominik sought out de Armas for Blonde after seeing her in the Eli Roth exploitation-style thriller Knock Knock, in which de Armas plays one of two possibly underage young women who seduce and imprison a hapless suburban dad Keanu Reeves. From there, de Armas went on to acclaimed roles in films like Blade Runner 2049 and Knives Out before scoring her first Best Actress nomination for Blonde. She will soon reunite with Reeves in the John Wick spinoff The Ballerina.
Main image: Ana de Armas in Blonde.