How do you play someone so distinctive, so famous, and so one-of-a-kind as Anna Nicole Smith?
Well, it takes a village! For Lifetime's "Anna Nicole" movie airing on June 29, a team of people contributed to actress Agnes Bruckner's transformation into the Playboy pinup — which included makeup, wig pieces, and chin-to-rib prosthetics.
The movie traces the blonde bombshell's life, from her modest roots in a small Texas town to gaining the notice of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to marrying rich octogenarian J. Howard Marshall (played by Martin Landau) to her tragic death from a drug overdose.
Bruckner chatted with Yahoo! TV about what it was like to step into an icon's shoes, Smith's surprising background, and how many hours she had to sit in the makeup chair.
Anna Nicole was such an iconic figure. Did you feel any trepidation about taking on the role?
Definitely. I was very nervous and anxious about taking the part, because she was so iconic and so famous and larger-than-life. I asked myself "Am I going to pull this off?" and "What kind of movie are we making?" and all those questions. But after meeting Mary Harron, the director, and [producer] Judith Verno, who I've worked with before on "The Craigslist Killer," also for Lifetime, we really wanted to show people a different side of Anna Nicole. We really wanted to tell a different story. All those things gave me the confidence to play the part.
You had to go through a big physical transformation. What was that like?
It was really amazing. We had an amazing team of Emmy Award-winning people. We worked so hard and we had prosthetic boobs and prosthetic cheek and neck pieces for when she was heavier. I bleached my own hair. And we also had wig pieces ... she had such different looks throughout her journey. The wardrobe team created so many of these beautiful dresses that you see in the movie from scratch, working around the clock. The transformation is really a reason alone to see this movie, because it's so unbelievable. It gave everyone chills when I showed up to set dressed as her.
We really tried to not make a caricature, not make something ridiculous with enormous boobs and stuff. We wanted viewers to really focus on her story, more than just the look.
How much time did you have to spend in makeup?
Wow! The first day I had a 3 AM call time and I was probably in makeup for about three or four hours. It was pretty chaotic. I have pictures of me sitting in the makeup chair with prosthetic boobs and there are six people working on my hair, my face, my prosthetics, my dress, my shoes!
What about her story drew you in?
After doing all the research that I did on her — it's just an amazing story. It's an amazing life that she had, starting from never having a really good relationship with her mother, having a child and getting married at 18, becoming a stripper, being found. The chances of somebody going from a strip club to being one of the most famous models in the world are so slim.
Also, when I was doing the research, I saw how she didn't have a strong support system. She didn't have people in her life who were taking care of her, protecting her, and telling her no. She was always surrounded by enablers, which I think led to a lot of the decisions that she made in her personal life and her career. Doing all that research and seeing all the footage and everything was really touching, and it made me feel protective over her and really feel for her and her family.
Were you surprised by what you learned?
Yeah, I was even surprised. I didn't know that she was a stripper. I didn't really know that much about her career because I was very young when she was in her heyday. I was very surprised and so were the makeup artists and the director Mary. We were so shocked to find out some of this stuff — backstory like where she came from, the small town she came from, her husband, and all these things. I think people might understand more why she did some of the crazy things that she did and where that might've come from.
Is there any particular aspect of Anna Nicole's life that the movie really focuses on?
We really wanted to show you where she came from, something that people didn't really focus on. People focused on the glitz and the glam, but they didn't focus on how she grew up. So we really try to show that side to her. That, of course, includes her relationship with [her son] Danny, because Danny was her rock. It was such an important relationship to show in the movie.
Judging from the trailer, the movie seems to have a darker, tragic tone.
I was bawling when I watched it, especially the last half-hour of the movie was just really touching to me. I became so protective over Anna Nicole and attached to her story. It really is very sad how her life ended. It pulls on your heartstrings.
Have you heard at all from any of her friends or family?
No, I haven't heard from anyone that was part of her life.
What kind of reaction have you received on Twitter?
Everybody's been really excited about it. The people who've seen the trailer and the photos have all been positive about it. … I'm really proud of it. I cannot wait until the 29th. I'm going to be excited to watch and interact with my fans on Twitter.
"Anna Nicole" premieres Saturday, 6/29 at 8 PM on Lifetime.