The Lifetime original movie Anna Nicole premieres Saturday, June 29 at 8pm ET/PT.
Maybe you remember her as the va-va-voom blonde who made Guess the must-wear brand of the ’90s. Or maybe you recall the multiple Playboy spreads — or the reality show that made a prime-time spectacle out of her horrific downward spiral. Or the rabid media coverage of her marriage to octogenarian oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall and the contentious battle for his estate that followed when he died. But odds are you remember Anna Nicole Smith, the teen mom from Mexia, Texas, turned international sexpot turned tabloid train wreck.
This month, Lifetime examines Smith’s colorful life and untimely death in its long-awaited biopic Anna Nicole, starring Agnes Bruckner (The Craigslist Killer) as Smith, veteran actor Martin Landau as Marshall and Adam Goldberg (Entourage) as Smith’s shifty companion/handler Howard K. Stern. Bruckner says that before she accepted the role, she made sure that the film wasn’t an exploitive rehashing of Smith’s time in the spotlight.
“I got protective of her after watching so many interviews of hers and reading about her and knowing her as best as I could,” says Bruckner, whose no-holds-barred performance is a highlight of the film. “I told everyone involved that I wanted to show people a real side to her. I want people to actually think about the part where she was a real person … to go, hmmm, maybe she was a heartfelt, ‘I love life’ kind of person, with an amazing son that she loved.”
Some of the film’s biggest revelations come in the surprising depth and tenderness of Smith’s relationship with Marshall, who discovered her dancing in a local strip club and recognized the spark that would make her a star. Taking Smith and her beloved son Daniel in, the ailing Marshall found his own zest for life rejuvenated — at least for a time.
Bruckner says Landau, too, was protective of his character, making sure that Marshall wasn’t portrayed as just the wheelchair-bound shell of a man who appeared in news reports. “To work with Martin Landau was one of the best experiences that I have ever had,” she says. “He’s such a professional and such a gentlemen and such an old-school actor. He took it so seriously and studied the character. It was beautiful to watch.”
The self-described tomboy says she will also never forget the first time she saw herself done up in full Anna Nicole regalia. “I was a brunette when I put myself on tape for Lifetime and I had the choice of using wigs, but I wanted to bleach my hair and really just become her,” says Bruckner, who also took strip-dancing classes to embrace her inner Anna Nicole. “She just screamed woman and sex and it was really fun.”
Asked if she believes Anna Nicole might’ve someday had a shot at a peaceful life — especially had Danny not succumbed to an overdose at age 20 — Bruckner is thoughtful.
“I think she loved Danny more than anything,” she says. “He was her mirror and I don’t think he was ever untrue to her. He was always the one going, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Stop doing this.’ But it became part of her lifestyle. And the people around her influenced her a lot. It’s very easy to get caught up in that no one ever tells you no — and when it spiraled out of control, she didn’t know how to put her feet back on the ground.”