“Go out there and lie for Italy. Lie for Italia!”
Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Stacy Ferguson, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren… the finest female line-upsince the 30s heyday of MGM…
An $80m musical with seven strong female roles vying for the attention of a Felliniesque film-maker – for a director whose previous filmusical earned six Oscars, 13 nominations and a global $300m.Well, it was raining actresses – mega-major actresses –upon Rob Marshall. Those that could sing ’n’ dance were all over him. And those who couldn’t.All inspired by the same thought…“Well if Renée can do it.”
OK, we were all knocked out by Renée Zellweger as Roxie with all the moxie – despite limited musical experience – in Marshall’s Chicago, 2002, evenif the supporting actress statuette went, instead, to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Both were approached by Marshall and his backers, then Miramax, now the WeinsteinCompany – same brothers, different banner.
However, at the start,Marshall’s eyes were elsewhere. He had to find a new Guido Contini, the character based on Fellini – just as Nine, itself,is based upon Fellini 8½… the life and women of a burnt-out movie-maker unable to write hisnew film due to begin shooting in ten days…
For once, the script did not comefirst. Marshall felt it more “important to cast the film so that we could write to the actors’ strengths.” Then, at the UK Shepperton studios, he spent a week oneach musical routine, followed by more intimate, drama inter-play while sets were struck and replaced for the next extravaganza setpiece. “It was like making five movies at once.”
Michael Tolkin finished his script in 2007 – “the basic structure,” producer Marc Platt called it – and UK writer-director Anthony Minghella delivered his version in 2008, days before he went in to the London hospital where he later died, at 54, of a post-surgery hemorrhage.
Guido.George Clooney (?) and Johnny Depp were considered for the Italian maestro. As was Antonio Banderas, the Tony-nominated Continiof the 2003 Broadway revival of the 1982 show (when the first Guido Contini was Raul Julia). RobMarshall preferred another Spanish starJavier Bardem. When he quit, pleading exhaustion in May 2007, requiring a year off, Marshall immediately called up another Miramax star, Daniel Day-Lewis “Daniel was so afraid of the singing,” Marshall discovered. “While I could tell immediately he had a voice. It just wasn’t something he had explored.”
Both actors had picked up Oscars on Febraury 24, 2008 – Daniel for There Will Be Blood, Javier for No Country For Old Men. Another Oscar-winner that night, the French Marion Cotillard (La Môme), would also enter the frame as the director set about tackling his women. Seven magnificent women..
Carla The Mistress…Claudia The Muse… Lilli The Confidant… LouisaThe Wife (who should bebased on Mrs Fellini,Gulietta Masina but never was)… Mamma The Mother… Saraghina The Prostitute … Stephanie The VogueReporter… That’s when his phones never ceased ringing and texting. “I was overwhelmed by the turnout.”
“The casting,” said Marshall, “was just crazy.”
And eye-poppingly triumphant!
Carla. Renée Zellweger was Marshall’s first thought for Guido’s married mistress – finally givento Penelope Cruz (the Spanish lover, infact, of the absent Bardem). Good as she was in Chicago,Renée could never have equalled the steam-heat sexuality of Penelope’s gyrationsduring her funny-erotico “A Call From the Vatican.” It had to besexy, said Cruz (the second of Tom Cruise’s two ex-lovers in then film) and her method was an odd one. “When I was climbing the ropes to the ceiling, all I could think about was the Pink Panther.”
Claudia . Forgetting that there are no such things as small parts only small players, Catherine Zeta-Jones kept wanting the role increased. Marshall refusedhis very own Oscar-winner (well, he never got one!) and saw Amy Adams, Toni Collette, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore (!) and Weinstein favourites JulietteBinoche and Gwyneth Paltrow. He then lost the plot completely and decided (badly) upon another Weinsteinpet, NicoleKidman, as the major moviestarcreatedby Contini. The trouble with Kidman was that since beating ex-husband Tom Cruise to an Oscar (for Miramax’s The Others, 2001), sheseemed to give up and her films have flopped.She looked good, sounded muddled (varying her accents), weakened the role and totally ruined show’s best song,“Unusual Way.”
Lilli . The Weinsteins voted –obviously – fortheir favourite dame. And their director eagerly agreed. When the film wrapped, he calledDame Judi Dench“one of the most amazingly sweet human beings I’ve worked with.” Certainly, her scenes with Day-Lewis are sheer bliss.
Louisa .Rob Marshall made a point of thanking his casting director Francine Maisler but…
The top roles were cast
by Oscar, the Weinsteins…
While Renée and Catherine waited, Marshall’s eyesnow fell upon the 2007Best Actress standing next to Day-Lewis inall the media pix at the Kodak Theatre on Oscarnight.Such a great looking couple!
She, of course, wastheneweststar on the international front, the French Marion Cotillard, who had conquered the world as Edith Piafin La Mome. And Marshall knew he had to haveher, in the nicest possible way. But for which role? Guido’s costume designer-cum-confidant –or his muse?Too young or not, Marion finally stole the musical as Guido’s actress-wife, Louisa, With two great songs, including her stripteasing “Take It All.” “I was amazed to be chosen,”declared Marion. “I thought I could dance. But I found out that it was more difficult than I thought.”
Tom Cruise’s wife, Katie Holmes, therefore, was left on the shelf… while three others with Tiny Tom connections made the movie: his ex-wife Nicole, ex-lover Penelope and ex-co-star Renée – in her 1996 breakthrough, Jerry Maguire.
Mamma .Sophia Loren was a shoo-in. Nolo contendere.No one else was even considered for Contini’s mother, forever inhis thoughts although a long time dead. And finally, there wasa woman inthe film that – even at 74 –matched Fellini’s kind of full-breasted fantasies. “Fellini was everything,” said Sophia.“He was a genius, a liar,” (Judi’s character tells Daniel Day-Fellini: “You’re a world class liar, darling!”).
After Shepperton, the movie moved to Italianlocations – plus fivedays at Fellini’s studio base, Cinecitta. “Italy is when the movie came to life for me,” said Marhsall. Fellini, ironically, never worked with Sophia and when Marshall did, hekeptpinching himself. “Shooting Sophia andDaniel in a 60s’Piazza del Popolo with a sports car was surreal.”
Saraghina . Rob Marshall was ultimately applauded for his originally deridedcasting of Renée Zellweger in Chicago. Now he did it again by making the frankly, lumpySaraghina – the slovenly hooker teaching the nine-year-old Contini,all about love-making – to a lithe rock ‘n’roll singer known as Fergie,Stacy Ferguson (one-time TVoice of Sally, sister of that celebrated round-headed kid Charlie Browninthe Peanuts toons) piled on the kilos, De Niro style, becoming far removedfrom herimage as the star ofThe Black Eyed Peas group and forever falling out of her tiny corset until Wardrobe added straps. Smouldering sex-on-legs, Fergie is this year’s Renée, this year’s revelation. After “Be Italian,” she need shell no more peas.
Stephanie .Cameron Diaz,Anne Hathaway (again) and Sienna Miller auditioned for Stephanie Necrophuro, the Vogue writerhoping to seduce Contini. Shebecame Kate Hudson. Her mother, Goldie Hawn, had once been up for Roxie Hart in (a pre-Marshall) Chicago. Kate had a new and totally unnecessary song, “Cinema Italiano” – which should havebeen cut instead of “With You” – a great numberfrom nearly all the Nine gang: Daniel, Marion, Penelope and Nicole. Had to be done, insisted Marshall. And he’d been here before – slicing “Class” from Chicago.
They all owe a considerable debt to the patient encouragementof their director. “Rob has a way,” reported Marion, “of asking people – with such a peaceful voice – to do things that they want to do but don’t know how to.”
At one point, Judi Dench’s character tells Guido: “Directing a movie is a very over-rated job. You just have to say Yes or No. What else do you do? Nothing!”
“If you boil it down,” says Marshall, ‘that’s true.”