Naomi Watts red lips blond hair

Naomi Watts to play Marilyn Monroe. Photo: AP

She already matched wits with King Kong; now Naomi Watts is ready to take on an even bigger legend: The Australian beauty is set to play Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe on the big screen.

Set to begin filming in January 2011, "Blonde" is a fictionalized account of Monroe's life based on the controversial 2000 Joyce Carol Oates best-seller. It will follow the legendary star from her humble beginnings as orphan Norma Jeane Baker to her last days as bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

And considering the subject, expect to see Watts steaming things up on screen. In one scene from the book -- which Oates admits is not historically accurate -- Monroe has sex with President John F. Kennedy as he speaks on the telephone to Fidel Castro.

"Blonde" director Andrew Dominik said from the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, "Why is Marilyn Monroe the great female icon of the 20th century? For men, she is an object of sexual desire who is desperately in need of rescue. For women, she embodies all the injustices visited upon the feminine -- a sister, a Cinderella, consigned to live among the ashes.

"I want to tell the story of Norma Jeane as a central figure in a fairy tale; an orphan child lost in the woods of Hollywood, being consumed by that great icon."

This isn't the first time Oates's book has been adapted for the screen. A 2001 TV movie starred another Aussie, "Without a Trace" actress Poppy Montgomery, as the lead, with Patrick Dempsey, Ann-Margret, and Kirstie Alley in supporting roles.

Incidentally, a rival Monroe project is currently in the works: "My Week With Marilyn," set to begin shooting in late September, will detail Monroe's time in England during the filming of the 1957 romance "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Sir Laurence Olivier. Michelle Williams is set to play Monroe now that Scarlett Johansson reportedly turned down the part.

As for the big-screen "Blonde," Vincent Maraval, of the film's distributor, Wild Bunch, says the movie "will not be a classic one but a modern 'Raging Bull.'"

Considering that Robert DeNiro won an Oscar for that movie, Watts better set aside a spot on her mantelpiece.

In related news, Marilyn Monroe's pink satin "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" dress is on the auction block.