Suzie Kennedy on Making Marilyn Monroe come alive on stage

image shows Marilyn Monroe impersonator Suzie Kennedy in a pose on a bed with a giant Chanel No5 perfum prop

Behind the scenes of a new play about the eternally fascinating Marilyn

Suzie Kennedy talks about being a Marilyn Monroe impersonator and how she plans to take that job a step further in Making Marilyn, a new play by Julie Burchill and Daniel Raven.

What inspired you to become a Marilyn Monroe impersonator?

Somebody said I looked like Marilyn Monroe. I never thought anyone could make money out of looking like somebody. It was bizarre to me! But once I honed my skills and was cast in an After Eights commercial with Naomi Campbell and Stephen Fry, my world opened up. It was the best decision I ever made.

How are you preparing for the title role in Making Marilyn?

Right now, I am rehearsing lines over and over again. I’m excited because I can hear Marilyn’s voice in the script. It’s easier to learn because it seems very much like her. I feel like she’s talking and breathing, so that’s how I prepare. I embody that feeling and can feel those words coming from her.

What aspects of Marilyn’s life and personality do you find most compelling?

Her complexity. In the play, she talks about how people have this image of her and, no matter what they find out about her to contradict it, they don’t want to accept it. I think we all have our own personal Marilyn, like we have our own personal Jesus. In that way, we view her personality to suit our own needs. Do we ever actually really know her? Did she ever know herself? Do we know ourselves? What I find most compelling is how much she represents us – and how we think and feel and project it onto her.

Can you share any interesting experiences from performing as Marilyn?

I’ve been so lucky, I’ve travelled all over the world. I was in films such as Blade Runner, and The Theory of Everything, which is about Stephen Hawking’s life. I got to sing to Stephen Hawking.

And I’ve been in the house where she filmed The Seven-Year Itch. I wore a white terry cloth robe exactly like the one she wore when she was hanging out of the window. It was completely crazy to literally walk in her shoes.

At the biggest-ever auction of her belongings, I got to wear her clothing. There will never be another sale like it because everything has now been sold.

What sort of things did you get to wear?

Her dress from Some Like It Hot, her ring, watches, jumpers, costumes and earrings from How To Marry A Millionaire and The Seven-Year Itch. I’ve been so blessed.

Suzie in several shoots as Marilyn

What challenges come with portraying Marilyn on stage?

Marilyn Monroe was a film actress, so we’re used to seeing her in close-ups and hearing her soft, breathy voice, which do not resonate on stage. With that comes a freedom. She never appeared on stage, so there is freedom to be creative. But it’s hard to put a film actress into the theatre and live up to people’s expectations.

How do you capture the essence of Marilyn Monroe?

It’s going to be easy to create her essence because Julie and Daniel’s writing has captured that essence of her. They have captured her voice for my Marilyn so well. All I have to do is bring my experience of nearly 30 years of playing her, combined with their words. And spraying some Chanel N°5 will help.

Read more: A history of lipstick through the ages

What do you hope audiences take away from this show?

I hope it challenges how they see Marilyn Monroe, how they see technology, how they see others, how they view others, how they use others. And it makes them question their relationships. What’s more important? Money, fame, or relationships? You have to see the play to know what I mean.

How has Marilyn Monroe’s legacy influenced your life?

She encouraged me to go for my dreams, to not be a victim of where you come from or what happened to you. Marilyn died young, but she had such bravery to overcome so much adversity. She champions my belief in all the complexities of being a woman – to be feminine, to be a bitch, to be an angel, to be sexy, to not be sexy.

Are there any moments in the play that really resonate with you?

This whole play resonated with me when I first read it. I was just thinking, please Julie, let me be Marilyn because this is my Marilyn. It’s the Marilyn I hear, the Marilyn that I feel. If I was in the hotel room with her, she would say these things.

There are scenes where she talks about how she is misunderstood if she doesn’t live up to expectations. She talks about feeling trapped by the studio to play dumb blonde parts. She talks about how you can be the loneliest woman in the world, yet have people around you. She’s wise, she’s hilarious, she’s tragic, she’s funny. It sums up her complexities and it sums up what it is to be a woman.

What advice would you give to aspiring performers who want to portray iconic figures like Marilyn Monroe?

To be able to play any iconic figure, you have to love them. You have to embody them and really take on what you think they were like. I love Marilyn Monroe and I love the fact that sometimes she’s not lovable, because sometimes I’m not. To play her is to accept all that she is. if you want to play anybody you have to accept everything about them, because that’s what love is. I accept every single part of Marilyn Monroe, including the parts that she said people found unacceptable.

Making Marilyn runs from 3-4 May 2024 at Horatio’s Bar, Brighton Palace Pier. Tickets from £13. To book, click here

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