Nine - Director Rob Marshall checks out a shot on set © Weinstein

The musical Nine is based on Federico Fellini’s classic motion picture 8 ½ which starred Marcello Mastroniani.

In this version Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Guido, a director on the verge of a nervous breakdown attempting to re-launch his career, announcing a movie he hasn’t even written yet. As he sits on an empty soundstage at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, his memories, desires and dreams come back to haunt him played out by the women in his life – his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), a flirty journalist from Vogue, Stephanie (Kate Hudson), and his beloved mother (Sophia Loren).

Once again director Rob Marshall, whose last musical Chicago won the Academy Award for Best Picture, has chosen a concept which effortlessly moves from reality to fantasy in the musical numbers.

Were you intimidated by the women in the cast?

Nine – Lilli (Judi Dench) and Showgirls perform “Folies Bergere” (Musical Number) © Weinstein

Of course, they’re so beautiful. This experience was daily for me overwhelming. I had to separate who these incredible women were from the work that we had to do.

We had so much work ahead of us, we had this huge mountain to climb, and all of us were just focused on that work. But putting together this dream cast, and it really is a dream cast, was one of the great joys of this.

Did you have a prolonged rehearsal period?

There’s a luxury that happens when you do a musical film, and that is you have to rehearse, and so we had six weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of pre-record and it was during that time that we created a company. It’s a scary time when you’re putting together a musical, especially when we’re all working so hard to do things that we don’t normally do in film, and so that bond that we create as a company is a  wonderful and rare thing.

The support that I saw happen amongst the company was extraordinary. I saw people coming to watch other people’s rehearsals.

I remember Daniel coming to the shoot of Penelope’s number, that number looks effortless but it was hard, she was developing calluses on her hands with those ropes and they were breaking and bleeding, and Daniel was there saying, ‘You’re a warrior, keep going,’ and it was a beautiful thing.

But that’s what I felt amongst the whole company. Everybody was so proud of the work everybody was doing.

Can you talk about casting Kate Hudson in the movie?

Nine – Director Rob Marshall on set © Weinstein

When Kate walked in it was one of those moments that happens rarely, it was such a great experience, she has this hidden talent that none of us knew about and she opened her mouth to sing and there was this incredible singer.

Then we got in the room and we started to move and I saw this proper dancer, this real dancer, and the truth is we created the character for her specifically.

It was nice to have an American voice in the film, because it’s a European film, but she was a knockout and it was thrilling to discover. I was so proud of what she did in the film.

These are extraordinary performances, and we haven’t seen this aspect of the actors before, how much do you think about having a dazzle effect when you cast?

I have to say I feel that my job is to serve the actors and protect them and make them as great as they can be. Casting for me is very important, because not only am I looking to cast specifically to fill the roles, these are very complicated roles, they had such range, all of them, but for me I have to like the people I’m working with.

That’s very important to me, because it’s your life and you spend time with them. I remember when I started to direct a director I knew came to me and said, ‘Everybody’s here to serve you,’ and he walked off the set and I remember thinking to myself, ‘It’s exactly the opposite.’ I’m there to serve them.

It was important for me to create an atmosphere where they felt they weren’t judged and they could do their greatest work, because we were all doing something that was far reaching and there was fear every day from all of us.

How do you take such a sad story and make it a musical?

Nine – Paparazzi poster © Weinstein

One of the joys of this piece is that it isn’t the normal musical, it doesn’t take a narrative trajectory. It’s in a man’s mind and it moves in and out. One of the great things about the source material is that it moves between fantasy and reality and memory seamlessly and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to make it as a musical, because I knew that then we could bring music to it.

One of the toughest things about doing a musical on film is why do people sing? There’s the very awkward moment where all of a sudden they open their mouth to sing and it has to feel organic. When I started to look for a piece I was looking for something that I could find a strong conceptual idea behind it. This is different than something like Chicago, which was really a satire.

This does move into something more serious. It begins a little lighter in tone, but I wasn’t afraid to move into that other area, this is a man that’s falling apart and he needs to learn how to begin again.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.

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