“You kill your film several times, mostly by talking about it,” says renowned director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the opening moments of the glittering new musical “Nine,” opening Christmas Day.
This is clearly not a view held by Rob Marshall, the film’s Oscar-nominated director, who is talking a lot about his latest work.
Marshall began his career as a dancer — he was first on Broadway in “Cats” — and choreographed several shows for stage and television before co-directing the Tony-winning 1998 revival of “Cabaret” starring Alan Cumming.
He then defied the odds as a first-time film director by guiding “Chicago” to a 2002 Best Picture Oscar — the first time a musical had done so in over three decades.
“I have great respect for choreographers because, in an odd way, you have to create the material, as opposed to a director whose job it is to interpret the material,” he said during a recent visit to San Francisco. “If you are working within a story, you have to further the plot or the development of the character through the dance. It’s very difficult. I think that’s why so many choreographers become directors, because directing is an extension of the skills they already have.”
Among creative endeavors, the ability to dance is one that is envied by many and attempted, let alone mastered by few.
“There’s something so freeing, so joyful about it,” Marshall says. “Penelope Cruz had studied dance as a child but never done anything remotely like her number in the film. She said it was such a high for her. Kate Hudson felt the same way about her number. There’s nothing like it. You’re working from an instinctive place, from your gut. When the music and the dance all come together … there’s an elation, a joy.”
There were marked contrasts between his two musicals.
“In ‘Chicago’ we were working with satire and it was wonderful to be in that world,” he says. “‘Nine’ is a darker piece, a deeper piece which is much rarer in a musical setting. I was eager to try something different and push the boundaries of the genre a bit. It felt more like uncharted territory and I wanted that challenge. When the cast came into place — starting with Sophia Loren — I knew I was on the right path.”
By any standards, the cast is sparkling, but particularly for a musical. In addition to those mentioned, Oscar winners Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard each take a turn in the spotlight, along with Grammy winner Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of Black Eyed Peas).
IF YOU GO
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman
Written by Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella
Directed by Rob Marshall
Running time 1 hour 58 minutes