Rob Marshall, ‘Chicago’s’ gay director, returns to his Broadway roots with the musical ‘Nine,’ an insider’s look at moviemaking
Director Rob Marshall’s Nine is a worthy musical follow-up to his multiple Oscar-winning Chicago, full of bombastic production numbers and razzle-dazzle with an Italian accent. The original 1982 Broadway stage musical — with book by Arthur Kopit and songs by Maury Yeston, the latter of whom contributed three new songs to the film — was an adaptation of Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical 1963 classic, 8Â½, about a womanizing filmmaker stuck in a creative and personal rut.
So how does a director of movie musicals direct a movie musical about a director directing a movie musical? Marshall did it by surrounding himself with reliable collaborators (including his life partner) and a star-studded cast: Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, who only has about a week until his next film, which still lacks even a script, begins production. Unable to focus, Guido loses himself in women — his wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), lead actress (Nicole Kidman), costumer (Judi Dench), and a Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson) — while being haunted by childhood memories of his mother (Sophia Loren) and a prostitute named Saraghina (Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie).
We caught up with Marshall to see how his own process worked in making one of the most anticipated films of the season.
Dallas Voice: Your partner, John DeLuca, served as a producer and choreographer on Nine. What does working together bring to your films? Marshall: Everything. The first time we worked together as collaborators on the other side of the desk was Chicago. I said, "John, I need you!" I was so nervous, being my first feature film, I really felt I needed all hands on deck and I needed his eye— he has a brilliant eye. I was concerned about working with your partner and how’s that going to play into our lives. But movies take so much time that to have the family — John and we have a beautiful dog named Gillie — with you as part of these journeys, then you’re not putting your life on hold. It becomes your life.
What do you find cutest about him when working together? After 27 years, he’s just wonderful with people, you know? The actors and dancers adore him because he brings joy and life to everyone he works with and supports them and gives great confidence. I love seeing other people learn to love him the way I do.
Some journalists still don’t realize you’re gay, bombarding you with suggestive, lecherous "How hot was it working with all these sexy ladies?" questions. Oh, right. What’s funny is what people don’t understand about being a gay man is you appreciate women as well as men. Penelope Cruz is one of the sexiest women I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So I was fine to hear those things. I’m very happy and proud of who I am and talk about John as well.
Which actor required the most vocal coaching and prep to get them in shape for the singing? Everyone did. Fergie obviously had a different challenge. She had to find her way into this world as an actor and approach her material from that. But they were all working so hard because it’s not something they do every day. Even Nicole, who sang in Moulin Rouge, took her material and dropped it many keys. I wanted a chest voice for her, to have a more sultry, darker, deeper sound for Claudia, so she was working really hard to find that.
What is the most significant change made from the play Nine to the film? It’s just one man with women and you’re moving in and out of things quite quickly. It all plays as a conceptual fantasy. Our movie really moves back and forth between reality and fantasy and memory.
What was the biggest difference between this and Chicago for you? It’s really a shift in tone. Chicago, ultimately, was a satire so there was a tone to that. This explores more dramatic territory and I found it to be a deeper story. That kind of emotional work was something very different from Chicago.
Daniel would write notes to the rest of the cast on Guido Contini stationery and sign them with his character’s name. Did he write any notes for you, like "Looking good in those pants?" Ha! Not like that, but he’s a very generous man, believe me, and I’ve gotten a few with some lovely words of encouragement. I’ll treasure those forever.
Speaking of treasures, is there anything special we’ll see on the Nine DVD next year? There’s a number we shot that we decided not to use in the end, "Only With You." It’s Daniel with Penelope, Nicole and Marion. We might put that extra number on the DVD.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2009.