GUIDO'S SONG: Guido Contini and His Women
At the heart of NINE's drama is the artistic journey of Guido Contini, the suave, sensual, Fellini-like Italian film director who is universally hailed as the world's greatest filmmaker--yet suddenly finds himself in a desperate search for inspiration for his next movie. He gets lost in his stormy relationships with a sea of beautiful women--who each seduce and confound him, spark his memories and open up his imagination to new possibilities, pushing him into the dream-like zone where creativity happens.
The role calls for a keen intelligence and simmering sexuality underscored by an unraveling sense of artistic vulnerability, and the surprise casting placed two-time Academy Award® winner Daniel Day-Lewis in the part. Day-Lewis has been called the most gifted actor of his generation, disappearing completely into the skin of an unforgettable array of screen characters, including his recent Oscar®-winning turn in the California oil epic, THERE WILL BE BLOOD--but he has never been seen dancing or singing in a film before. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis threw himself into the role with his prototypical intensity--even learning fluent Italian, in order to inhabit the character completely.
Maury Yeston, who has seen quite a range of actors take on the role of Guido, was impressed with Day-Lewis's absorption into the role, but also his undiscovered ability to entertain as a singer. "It turns out that Daniel is a gifted singer and always was, but we just never knew it," Yeston remarks.
Says cinematographer Dion Beebe of Day-Lewis's departure performance: "There's an intensity to the performance, but there's also a lightness, a sense of humor and irony. Guido is a man whose world might be collapsing, but his mind is always ready to fly off into fantasy."
Sophia Loren adds, echoing the entire casts' sentiments: "Daniel is one of the best: scary, intimidating, hypnotic, beautiful, magnetic… unforgettable!"
Surrounding Day-Lewis--and alternately seducing and unsettling his character--in NINE is a knock-out ensemble of sexy, strong, glamorous women, each with her own vital role to play in helping Guido find his way through his creative maelstrom.
The roster begins with Oscar winner, Marion Cotillard--who stirred audiences with her lifelike performance as Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE--takes on the role of Luisa, Guido's long-devoted and long-suffering wife. Luisa was once his leading lady, and is still the woman Guido can't live without, but now she has taken a back seat to the many other temptations in his life. She is acutely aware there will always be a price to pay for loving a creative artist like Guido, as she confesses in her number, "My Husband Makes Movies" and the new, heart-wrenching number "Take It All"--but his behavior brings her to the brink of a momentous decision.
In preparing for the role, Cotillard thought a lot about her character's motivations and her life before Guido. "Luisa was an actress when she met Guido. I think she dedicated her life to him, because their love was stronger--at that time--than her ambitions as an actress. Now she feels she has given everything to this man," she explains.
Continues Cotillard, "In the time they have been together, Luisa has accepted many things about Guido. He is a director. He loves women. He needs women. He takes love and energy from these women. He needs Luisa, but he doesn't fully realize that she must have something in return. Luisa gives everything to Guido, but she has reached a crossroad where she has to decide."
Guido's irresistibly lusty yet delicately needy mistress, Carla, played by Penélope Cruz, who won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for another incendiary role in VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA.
Cruz was instantly attracted to Carla's colorful role in Guido's life, as the woman who intends to battle for him, no matter the cost. "Carla has hope, conflict and pain in her relationship with Guido," Cruz observes. "When she is around him she feels alive, because he makes her feel special, but it's a real roller coaster with him and he also causes Carla a lot of grief. Their relationship has been going on for some years and I think she simply can't let go. She sees only what she wants to see in Guido. She feels ready to fight for him to the end."
Cruz threw herself heart and soul into NINE, and says she was constantly inspired to go further by her director and fellow cast members. "This film has been an incredible experience and most of that is because of Rob Marshall," she says. "He has a brilliant talent and generosity. He sees everything, yet he manages to be honest with everyone. He only wants to bring the best out of everybody. We had all of these women working together, and he made each of us all feel special, every minute of the day."
She relished the chance to sing and dance, especially in the provocative number "Call From the Vatican". "We rehearsed for weeks and weeks, which I loved, and then when we shot the number, I was so sad, because I knew I would never get to do it again," she confesses.
Another woman who has long been in a slippery, symbiotic relationship with Guido is his inspiration and muse, Claudia Jenssen. They have built their stellar careers on each other--and as Claudia sings, she loves Guido in an "Unusual Way"--but now, as Guido grows desperate for inspiration, Claudia does the unthinkable: she turns down the lead role in his film.
Starring as Claudia is Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, whose diversity of roles has spanned from Virginia Woolf in THE HOURS to a an overwrought modern New Englander in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. She also starred in another innovative film that helped to kick-start the modern era of the re-imagined Hollywood musical: Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE.
Kidman recalls being instantly energized by the themes at the core of NINE. "It's the study of a man who's having a breakdown and looking for resurrection--and all the women in his life. It's about artistic and human nature, about the crimes and lies Guido has committed, and his search for his lost authenticity and decency," she says.
She was equally enticed by the filmmakers at the helm. "NINE was the film everyone wanted to do," she says. "Rob Marshall had his pick. He came to me and said, 'Would you play Claudia?' and I said, 'Absolutely.' I was sitting with him in the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, in the middle of a press junket, so it was a very movie star moment!"
She continues: "At that stage, they didn't have a male lead, so we all kept our fingers crossed . . . and as fate would have it, Daniel Day-Lewis stepped into the role. He's so true to his art and it's so beautiful to be in the orbit of someone like Daniel, to be one of his many women."
Another of those women is Guido's nurturing confidante and costume designer, Lilli, who is played by Judi Dench, the venerable British star of stage and screen who won the Oscar® for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and has been nominated six times. Dench took pleasure in the very different kind of relationship Lilli has with Guido; and in Lilli's flamboyant personality, evidenced by her spectacle-admiring number "Follies Bergere." "Lilli is obviously older than Guido, and knows him very, very well, has worked with him many, many times and, yet, like the other women in his life, she is utterly bewitched by him," says Dench. "Who wouldn't be?"
Lilli, Dench notes, sees herself as Guido's self-appointed protector. "She wants to remind him that he doesn't have to be so full of apprehension. She's trying to catch his imagination again, and remind him of the fun they've had making beautiful movies. She sees that he's bogged down and her goal is to break through that so that he can become the person she knows he can be."
Life also imitated art for Dench in the role. "Strangely enough, I started out training to be a costume designer in the theatre!" she explains. "So that was nice, to kind of understand the world my character inhabits. I couldn't put it into practice now--and I never had to worry about the costumes on this film because Colleen Atwood is a miracle worker--but I know that world very well."
Dench previously worked with Day-Lewis under different circumstances, playing his mother in HAMLET at the Royal National Theatre, and knew the degree to which he penetrates his roles. "It was just lovely to get another opportunity to work with him," she says. "He became completely Italian; and that's Dan. That's the way he does it and it was wonderful for the rest of us, because when you're doing a scene with him, he makes the work completely seamless."
A mischievous flirtation for Guido comes in the form of the impeccably fashionable Vogue journalist Stephanie, who features prominently in his fantasies. Kate Hudson, an Oscar® nominee for her vibrant performance in ALMOST FAMOUS, takes on the flashy role. "Stephanie," she notes, "is an obsessive fan of Guido Contini. She adores his films and Italian culture in general. She is one of many women who all want a piece of Guido!"
For Hudson, the very notion of doing a musical was completely new and refreshing, and she was particularly excited to perform one of Maury Yeston's new songs: the buoyant pop ode to style, "Cinema Italiano." "I've never had an opportunity to do something like NINE before," comments Hudson. "I've taken dance classes and worked with different choreographers, but I had never done a big number with hair and make-up and lights before this. Luckily, Rob prepared us with six weeks of rehearsal which was like a training camp. We sang and danced every day on a mock up stage."
Then came her big moment in front of the camera. "It was an entirely different and terrifying experience," she admits, "but also absolutely incredible and I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Also joining the cast is a veritable Italian screen legend in real life: Oscar® winner Sophia Loren, who says she was bowled over when Rob Marshall offered her the role of one of the most important women in Guido's life: his always influential mother. Marshall told the internationally beloved actress that he could not contemplate making NINE without her. "He explained it was a small role, but said he would only make the film if I would play Mama," Loren explains. "So I joked to him that I would do it to save his career because I liked CHICAGO so much. But it was really something I wanted to do. I mean for an Italian girl to be in an American musical is something."
Loren loved having the chance to perform the third new song from Yeston: the lullaby "Guarda Luna." She also was thrilled to work with a cadre of today's most illustrious female stars. "To work with Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, I wondered if we would all kill each other!" Loren laughs. "But no. It was like family. It was wonderful because none of us had ever done a real Hollywood musical, so we were rooting for each other and we really became lasting friends."
Rounding out the family of women who came together for NINE is Grammy winning artist Stacy Ferguson--known universally as Fergie--who embraced the haunting role of Saraghina, the Roman prostitute whose romantic advice had a lasting impact on a very young and impressionable Guido, as recalled in the powerful number "Be Italian."
Once Ferguson won the role in a hard-fought audition, she set out to make it totally her own, diving into cinematic research. She says, "I watched lots of different films from that era, to get the raw physicality of Saraghina. I wanted this character to take over from me. It really came together when we started to do the routine with the girls and I got to work with the boys on the beach. That really gave me a sense of who she was, and what she meant to Guido in his life."
Ferguson found herself greatly admiring her character. "Saraghina is a very earthy, raw woman, in the way she walks and moves. She's full of life and fire," she explains. "But there's subtlety to it. She loves Guido and the boys, and enjoys teaching them, but she's kind of having a joke with herself as well at the same time."
The way that Ferguson embodied all of those qualities took Maury Yeston aback. He says: "I think the world will be stunned by Fergie's performance. Of course, she is a first-rate recording artist but the revelatory aspect of her performance is that she is also a fantastic film presence."
Each of the women involved in NINE agree that the film was an unusually fun and rich experience. Summarizes Penélope Cruz: "When things go well on a set it is contagious. There are many different elements to NINE but Rob Marshall brought them all together like a magician. What he did with this movie is going to blow people away and I think we all felt lucky to be part of it."
Yeston says he was blown away by the non-theatrical cast's ability to so fully embody his lyrics and songs. "I was very much impressed with the quality of the vocal performances. They are poetic, lyrical and truly moving," he comments.
Adds Marc Platt: "The skill of Rob Marshall, John De Luca and their terrific team of co-choreographers and vocal coaches allowed each of our cast members to realize their full potential. In each of these extraordinary actors was always the ability to sing and dance, but the key was to allow them to feel safe and to have the confidence to give bravura performances that I think will be revelatory for audiences."
Adds Harvey Weinstein, "Outside our key crew of Dion, Colleen and John (who started with Rob on CHICAGO) I was the only one in this group that has worked with Rob before. On CHICAGO I had the opportunity to observe Rob's process which is nothing less than exhausting to behold and it was the same on NINE, actually maybe even harder. If he's not on the floor working on the numbers with the dancers he's meeting with the music team listening to the musical numbers and making tweaks or meeting with his designers or working with his cast. On CHICAGO he directed 3 big movie stars on this movie he's directing 8! Rob has that rare talent; if he's working with 5 or 500 people; each of those people will feel they have his full attention, respect and those people will go out and give their all to delivery for Rob."