She wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but what she lacked in the brain cells department, she made up for with pure unadulterated ambition. So how did Anna Nicole Smith express this ambition? Try platinum blonde hair, double DD assets, and an innocent sex kitten affectation. Thanks to these goods and her distinct showmanship, Smith became one of the biggest tabloid starlets in recent decades.
As much as Smith’s life was a seedy, tragic roller coaster—transforming from Playboy Playmate, to the wife and widow of an octogenarian billionaire, to an obese reality TV joke, and then to victim at 39 via painkiller addiction—British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage found her lusty, greedy, trashy, and ultimately lonely story too irresistible to turn away from.
Debuting earlier this year at the Royal Opera House in London and making its U.S. premiere in New York City at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on September 17th, the opera Anna Nicole brings on the absurdity of celebrity and the tragedy of a desperate, flamboyant woman to the stage.
Actress Sarah Joy Miller, who plays the starring role as Anna, took time out to answer our questions on what it was like becoming the blonde bombshell.
What made you want to pursue this operatic take on Anna Nicole?
It is such an interesting story, stranger than fiction in some ways. I found the challenge of portraying her to be irresistible.
What kind of research did you do to take on AN’s character and what was the hardest part of her to imitate?
I read and watched everything I could find about Anna. Because I am singing the part, not speaking like in a movie or a play, I really didn’t focus on imitating her. Instead I thought about relating her energy through my voice and the music. At some point I realized that because she was completely obsessed with Marilyn Monroe, studying Marilyn and what I may do in order to try to appear like Marilyn was an integral part of understanding her. More than imitating Anna, I began to consider what I would do if I were to want to be Marilyn and how that would intersect with how Vicki Lynn became Anna Nicole. I am finding that pathway into her character to provide the most solid grounding to become her in an authentic way.
What do you think drove her ambitions to be a star?
A need to be loved, a belief that the adoration a star receives would satiate that need, all mixed with a child-like desire for attention.
Why has her “lowbrow” story proven successful amid this highbrow genre?
Well, it is sharply written, has a unique and compelling score and a vivacious heroine living an outrageous life that ultimately ends in her demise. In a way, what’s more operatic than that? The roles of Violetta or Manon, for example, are no less scandalous, we just don’t recognize it in the same way because so much time has past and we no longer uphold the social conventions of that period.
What’s your favorite part of the show to perform and why?
I love singing Anna’s first act aria, “You Can Dream.” It is beautifully written and such a pleasure to sing.
What message do you hope viewers will leave with after seeing Anna Nicole’s highs and lows performed on stage?
There are certainly many lessons to be learned from Anna Nicole’s life, but I hope people leave with a sense of how truly remarkable she was.
‘Anna Nicole’ premieres at BAM Sept. 17th – 28th.