The singer and actress has always admired Marilyn Monroe. Sixty years after her disappearance, Vanessa Paradis slips into the skin of her idol in an evocation of the cult film the misfits, under the lens of Anton Corbijn. Before resuming the tour of his play Momthe Chanel muse shares with us her fascination for the American star.
What do young girls dream of? On the walls of her bedroom, in Villiers-sur-Marne, near Paris, Vanessa Paradis pinned photos of Romy Schneider and Marilyn Monroe. Not really the goddesses of her time, but the teenager was not like the others, knew by heart Caesar and Rosalie and Men prefer blondes, and became an instant star at 14 by getting us into Joe’s cab. Reveries around the most famous platinum blonde of the XXand century have never left the mind of the one who became an adored pop star and a vigorous actress, as comfortable in drama as in comedy. It seemed obvious to us to offer her to slip into the skin of her idol (about which she is unbeatable) on the occasion of the sixty years of the disappearance of the one that a single first name is enough to identify, Marilyn, dead in Los Angeles on August 4, 1962, in circumstances never elucidated, drug overdose, suicide, assassination (our guest leans towards the last hypothesis).
Vanessa Paradis chose The Misfits (The Misfits, by John Huston, 1961), a disenchanted and twilight film in which Monroe plays with an overwhelming truth, spitting out her ill-being in a famous scene, a frail, paling figure lost in the scorched expanses of Nevada. It is on the white sand of the forest of Fontainebleau that Anton Corbijn recreated the set of this cursed film in black and white with a platinum Vanessa Paradis more real than life. The star photographer and director had crossed paths with her when she was 20, then again last year when he photographed her at the presentation of Chanel’s spring-summer haute couture, of which Vanessa Paradis is the emblematic ambassador. They really wanted to meet for an exceptional occasion. Engine !
Madame Figaro . – How was born this passion for Marilyn Monroe?
Vanessa Paradis. – I must have been 5 or 6 years old when I stumbled upon a book in my parents’ library, it was a biography, the kind of book with a few pictures in the middle pages. I was as if struck down by the hallucinating beauty of this woman of whom I knew nothing. Photos led me to films, then films to records. Marilyn Monroe never got out of my head again. I watched his films over and over, then later I read every biography, saw every documentary. An adoration cannot be explained. There is beauty, femininity, grace, delicacy and, at the same time, something tragic that we feel, that we sense. Everything attracts me, everything pleases me, her looks, her smiles, the way she moves. And this incredible modernity for the time. There is something about her that we had never seen elsewhere: this relationship to the body, this freedom of the body without ever being vulgar, a totally assertive body, but which has not given up on childhood either.
Do you remember the first movie you saw with her?
Most likely Men prefer blondes, I’ve always loved musicals, and Howard Hawks’ movie is a little girl’s dream, with its Technicolor, costumes and songs. I also saw a lot The river of no return and Some like it hot obviously. Later I found out The Misfits and lesser-known movies, like trouble me tonight in which she is already an extraordinary, fair, powerful and totally disturbing actress in the role of an unbalanced babysitter. And then there’s the singer of course, she revered Ella Fitzgerald and you can hear it: she’s a divine jazz singer, with a velvet voice and a marvelous vibrato. When I listen to her Lazy, of Irving Berlin, I am bewitched.
Everything attracts me, everything pleases me, her looks, her smiles, the way she moves
What does the dark side of Marilyn Monroe evoke for you?
I think about Fragments, a collection of intimate writings published well after his death, a terribly intrusive book, but which enlightens us on his spirit and his thought. We discover his depth, his sensitivity and his distress too, his fears, his doubts, the fear of madness. He was a tormented soul who never stopped progressing and fulfilling himself.
They say you have a lot of things that belonged to Monroe.
I’m not a collector, but I have a few things that were given to me. A pair of shoes for example, sublime white pumps. We have the same shoe size, I sometimes put them on, take a few steps and put them away, because I’m too afraid of deforming them. I also have a jacket, a cape, a hat that I wear sometimes, but very infrequently because they are invaluable to me. Once I went prowling around the villa she owned in Brentwood and where she died. It took me a long time to decide to go there, and I was very moved to discover from the outside this modest hacienda, her only house, where she did not live long, the poor darling, a few months only.
You lived in Hollywood, the home of cinema. Is it something that brings you closer to her?
When I lived there, I led a very family life: the children, the school. There was nothing Hollywood in my lifestyle, I went to dinner very little, and I only attended the Oscars twice. It was wonderful to see so many famous actors, it was my dream of American cinema but not at all my American dream, because I never aspired to be part of it. Perhaps because it requires too much of oneself, it means being available only for that and, probably, shooting films that you don’t want to make in order to be able to reach those you are targeting. There was no reason for me to embark on this obstacle course. Younger, however, after the filming of white weddingmy first film, I did some improbable castings like that of Indecent Proposal, for the role of Demi Moore! It made absolutely no sense, and in retrospect I find it very odd. I quickly put the kibosh on this kind of experience, and I have no regrets about it: I am fulfilled in France.
Vanessa Paradis, the cover story
Monroe was manipulated and, according to some, manipulative. Is there a way to properly handle the excesses of fame?
Manipulative, I don’t like that word; what is certain is that she was a good communicator, but I don’t know if that was part of a strategy. She was smart and she knew how to use her image. The image is a weapon. Chez Marilyn is also a call to be watched and loved. And then there is a context, the 1950s, and a country, America. Actors belonged to studios, they were stuck, emancipation began the following decade. Marilyn, she started her career at the end of the 1940s, and probably her body and her seduction allowed her to destabilize her interlocutors and, in a certain way, to be heard and to exist. She still managed to impose something very exceptional at the time: a freedom to be oneself, in the broad sense, the affirmation of a sensual body.
When you started out, you yourself were cataloged as a woman-child…
The context is really different, it’s not the same era, not the same culture, not the same difficulties. But Monroe’s problem remains a problem today: the place of women in society and in the workplace. As far as I’m concerned, it’s true, when I started out I was first considered a woman-child and a singer without really any talent. We were wondering what I was doing there. The success was so overwhelming that it had nothing to do with what I could offer. It took time for me to prove that there was something worthwhile in me. Marilyn Monroe, she did not know during her lifetime the recognition she deserved. It happened after. However, she did everything to progress, she went to live in New York, she got closer to Lee Strasberg, she set up her production company, things that were absolutely unconventional for the time, but we continued not to take it seriously.
In video, Vanessa Paradis, César for the best young female hope (1990)
Have you had to suffer from image distortions?
The image, we certainly take it from you, but we also give it, we play with it. It’s an exchange. I’m from the generation of music videos and record covers, everything went through that, it was a way of presenting yourself to the world. At first it might have been painful, you can’t stop people from talking, judging, being unfair sometimes, yes I was hurt at times, but in the end what remains is your work, the heart and essence of your work. To succeed, I had to cling to concrete things: music, concerts, films. The rest is part of the game: to be loved, not to be loved. As for recognition, it is essential, but not only in the artistic professions. All work deserves attention and, if possible, appreciation.
You like Marilyn Monroe and Romy Schneider, two actresses who, it is said, were burned by the cinema…
By life, rather, even if the cinema did not have to arrange things. They are two women who have lived complicated lives, childhoods and loves. And, in the case of Marilyn, an aggravating circumstance, it was the time when the actors were totally dependent on drugs without the disastrous effects on health being measured. What I do know is that I had incredible parents, who gave me love and confidence, who loved me, surrounded me, accompanied me. I’m not saying that you can’t get by without this prerequisite – you can choose families other than your own – but it’s much easier to start out in life feeling supported. Being an actress is terribly destabilizing, you are scrutinized on a giant screen, you depend on the desires of others and when you are no longer wanted, it’s over…
Perhaps she would have met a man who would have loved her for what she was?
Anything else that touches you about Marilyn?
In the dramas of her life, she lost all the children she bore. Mother, she probably would have lived another life. Me, without children, I would have been someone else. I don’t think women have to have children to be fulfilled, but I always wanted to have them, and they shaped the woman I am today.
How do you imagine Marilyn Monroe if she had lived?
I can’t imagine her as a mature woman, let alone an old lady. She would be 96 years old. In 1962, at the time of her death, she had projects, a production house. She was a woman ruled by her heart: perhaps she would have met a man who would have loved her for what she was?
Vanessa Paradis is on tour in September with the play mom, dand Samuel Benchetrit.