BWW Interviews: Sunny Thompson Talks MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE
Marilyn, Hedda, Arthur and Joe. I got the chance to talk about them all with the sultry and savvy, not unlike Marilyn, Sunny Thompson, who brings the famous blonde to life for Houston next week.
BWW: You sound so much different than I expected you would! I looked up some of the MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE videos and I just assumed you would sound like Marilyn.
Sunny: No, no, no. We try a more Marilyn-esque kind of voice. And we use lots of different voices even for Marilyn. She has the breathy one that we hear in her movies. Then, if you hear recordings of her, she had a whole different voice.
Sunny: Yeah, and the laugh is different. In the beginning of her film career, when she has her very first audition - she was quite young - that voice was quite different from the others. It was [does the voice] quite low and quite affected [We Laugh]. So, we use that one. There's lots of different kinds of voices. None of which sound really like me [Laughs].
BWW: You actually sound like an adult woman.
Sunny: Yes [We both Laugh].
BWW: So, tell me about the show.
Sunny: I play Marilyn at 36. We talk about it all. We carry quite a large set, and it's all white. It's very creation - if you've ever seen An Evening with Marilyn by Douglas Kirkland, if you've ever seen some of the pictures of her in the white sheets - was inspired by that particular photo shoot.
In fact, in the play the first place you see me is in a photo shoot. She's in a photo shoot and she's kind of remembering back. That's where it all starts. You hear a voiceover of a would-be photographer that said she was supposed to arrive at 10 am. And when she showed up at 7 pm, I was just glad to see her [Laughs]. Then you just see flash, and flash, flash. And it's just light for a few seconds and you see me posing in those iconic poses in the sheets. And, if I've done my homework and done my diligence, the desired response is "Oh my god, she's here!" So, we're over the physicality - does the actress look like her - and jump into the story.
BWW: Could you give me a general idea of the story?
Sunny: FOREVER BLONDE gives you a perspective on where she is in her life and it's fairly chronological as it goes from first interview to first husband. We go through loves and losses and being hired by Fox and a few weeks later let go because, well, she wasn't photogenic enough.
BWW: Wow, that's hard to think about Marilyn.
Sunny: Well, she rolls her eyes and makes quips about it too. Everything I say in the play is Marilyn's words and I sing, I think, 17 songs she sang in her movies. And there are several costume changes throughout the play. And each costume change is pretty significant to what's going on in the play and where she is in her life. It all happens through the course of conversation basically. Or the monologue and songs.
BWW: It seems like there are a lot of disparate elements that you have to bring together. How did you keep the production cohesive?
Sunny: That was a big challenge to bridge the gaps between subject matter. I will say there's a media element to it. Some pictures of her husbands or different loves and her different agents. Or she's in a press conference and you see the press behind her. Voice overs and the media elements help to bridge what would be gaps. And songs help a lot. We use every trick in the book - costume changes, reapplying making up. So, we use just everything. Every little trick that makes the play more interesting to listen to and watch as well. Because when it's a one person play, you have that challenge of making it interesting for two acts - two hours with a fifteen minute intermission. It's a challenge to keep the audience, their eyes and ears and all the senses, entertained and interested in what's going on. Certainly, I think, we've - hopefully - achieved that.
BWW: She had a lot of talent so that has to be a great help to you too.
Sunny: Yeah, and she had a great wit too.
BWW: I'm surprised that you were able to find quotes of hers that weren't apocryphal.
Sunny: We really tried. I read over, I think, 250 books and you can kind of sift it out. And the Marilyn fans are very knowledgeable. They know every facet of her life and every fact and figure and place she's been. They're great resources now that I know many of them.
BWW: How did you choose the songs?
Sunny: That was something my husband did way back when. He'd seen a one person play about Groucho Marx in the 80s on Broadway. He came out of it really moved. He thought it was going to be very funny and it turned out to be a very serious drama. So, he came out inspired to write something of the same magnitude or vein and he thought, "Who could be that interesting or that big?" Marilyn came to mind. As all men of that era, he had a fascination with and attraction to Marilyn. And continues to!
So he got all of the quotes he could find and put them on index cards in his office and organized them by subject. Interestingly enough, the songs she sang in her movies kind of fit in a category. Like, when she was breaking up with Arthur Miller, there was "I'm Through With Love." It's the perfect song.
She's just not going to try that again. They're not going to try for marriage again.
Then there's "Running Wild." She says, "And then it happened. I was on every magazine cover. Everybody wanted to know what I had to say." Then she goes into a press conference. Then it's running wild and everything is going crazy. She didn't have time to love. That's what those words are about. That works really well for that particular time in her life.
At the end of the first act, there's "Diamonds" and she's famous, of course, and enjoying her fame.
Then we come out at the top of the second act with "Some Like It Hot," which was recorded but never used in the film Some Like It Hot. She's in a bubble bath talking about how she feels about fame ("It's really nice to be who you are doll"). That's interspersed with lyrics of "Some Like It Hot."
BWW: You've been touring and performing the role for seven years. Does it still challenge you?
Sunny: I think that's why it keeps. Because it is always challenging. As you experience life or meet another person that knew her, you bring another element. I don't change the lines at all but it brings another perspective and more understanding.
BWW: Since we're winding down, I'm going to ask you this question: Do you have any advice for aspiring actors? Do you think it would be similar to what Marilyn would say?
Sunny: No one's ever asked me that before! What would my advice be? Do your homework. That is the biggest thing. Leave no stone unturned. She was a rehearser. She rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. And did take after take after take. I think we can attribute that to her success. She obviously had to have the door opened. And there's a lot to that. But once the door's open, you have to walk through and do the job.
BWW: I have a favorite quote that's attributed to Mae West: "Good sex is like good bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand" [She laughs]. Marilyn was witty too. Do you have a favorite joke or quip from Marilyn?
Sunny: I love when she's in a press conference and she's come back from New York and she looks fantastic in this fabulous black suit with gloves on. One of the women journalists who were always looking for dirt, probably Hedda Hopper or somebody like that, asks her "So Marilyn, you're dressed differently. Has New York changed you?" Marilyn thinks for a minute then she says, "Oh, it's a different dress but I'm the same person."
And on that quip we'll end. MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE runs August 21 - 23, 8:00 pm at the Wortham. For more information visit http://www.brilliantlectures.org/.