It’s no longer shocking when established film directors turn to TV — after all, Martin Scorsese, Jane Campion, and David Fincher have all done it recently to great acclaim.
Still, you may be surprised to learn that Lifetime’s upcoming Anna Nicole Smith biopic was directed by none other than Mary Harron — a filmmaker best known for her wicked work on controversial cult favorites like I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho. Thanks in part to Harron’s pedigree, the movie also managed to attract an unusually accomplished cast, including Oscar winner Martin Landau (as Anna Nicole’s wealthy husband J. Howard Marshall), Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (as Anna’s mother, Virgie), indie stalwart Adam Goldberg (as Anna’s lawyer and companion, Howard K. Stern), and Princess Bride star-turned-character actor Cary Elwes (as J. Howard’s scheming son E. Pierce Marshall).
So how did a movie maverick find herself on the set of a made-for-TV flick about a notorious celebrity train wreck? Easy — the film’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Maron, simply called her up and asked if she wanted the job. (Zadan and Maron must have a thing for Marilyn Monroe; their canceled series Smash revolved around a Marilyn musical, while Anna Nicole is peppered with references to Monroe being Smith’s idol.)
“They said they wanted to do a director-driven movie, and that was very interesting,” Harron explained in a phone interview. “And I thought it was interesting to try and do a TV movie that was like a movie-movie, in a way.”
What is it that separates Anna Nicole from a garden-variety Lifetime movie — and why does Harron think we’re still fascinated with Smith’s story, even six years after her death? The answer lies in Anna Nicole‘s unique approach to its subject, according to the director — and the enduring allure of the “beauty queen” story.
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