NINE -- which is based on Federico Fellini's film 8 ½ and features a screenplay by Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin and a score by Tony Award winner Maury Yeston -- is the story of filmmaker Guido Contini, who has a mid-life crisis as he searches among all the women in his life for an idea for his new movie.
Marshall, best known for his choreography for the Broadway revival of Cabaret and directing the Oscar-winning film version of Chicago, had his own bright idea to call film legend Sophia Loren and ask her to play Guido's mother. "I said, 'Miss Loren, we can't make this picture without you,'" he recalls.
The still-luscious-at-75 Loren recalls her simple reply: "Of course, I said I would," she says. "I was proud to be asked. I am the only actual Italian in the film and we need to show that Italian films are still important. I never actually worked with Fellini, but I think the story of Fellini is magical, like this film."
Guido -- originally played on Broadway by Raul Julia (and then by Antonio Banderas in the recent revival) -- is the film's pivotal character and Day-Lewis admits to some trepidation in taking on the role. "It was my first musical and I was anxious, but as we all know, anxiety can be an aphrodisiac," he says. "Rob told me we'd have an eight-week rehearsal period, and I don't like to rehearse. But the demands of the music and the dancing were such that there was no way around rehearsing."
If Kidman, who plays Guido's paramour Claudia, looks especially curvaceous, there's good reason. "Actually, we started rehearsals when my daughter Sunday Rose was just six weeks old," Kidman explains. And while the role isn't especially large, Kidman had no complaints. "The story is really about the man and all the ladies are supporting roles, so I was comfortable with my part. I was even comfortable enough to nap in the rehearsal room with Daniel."
Cruz, who portrays Guido's sexy mistress, Carla, also loved working with Day-Lewis. "He was always watching everyone do everything which is, of course, very Guido," she notes. "But he was also always on set if a scene involved his character, even if he wasn't being filmed. He would be there for the other actors and he was always ready for whatever came next with absolutely no vanity at all about his performance. He would even leave me little notes signed Guido," she says.
Dench plays Guido's costume designer and confidante Lilli. "I just said yes to the project, even though I didn't know NINE," she says. "Oh, I'd heard it talked about for years, of course, but I'd never seen it. I just took it on complete instinct." For her big number, "Follies Bergere," Dench said she relied on technique she used when she played Sally Bowles in the original West End production of Cabaret.
Another strong performance comes from Kate Hudson, who plays Stephanie, an American fashion magazine editor enamored of Guido. "I was just 'please get me in the room for the audition and we'll see what's what'," she admits. And once Marshall saw what he calls "her hidden talent," he had the character of Stephanie created specifically for Hudson and Maury Yeston composed a brand new song for her entitled "Cinema Italiano" (which Hudson's celebrated mother, Goldie Hawn, came on the set to see filmed).
One of the most memorable characters in the film is Saraghina, the prostitute on the beach visited by nine-year old Guido and his buddies, played by Grammy Award winner Stacy Ferguson (aka Fergie). "I was so hungry for this role that I risked everything," Fergie reveals. "I got dressed for the audition in character and makeup so they'd see Saraghina and not me. All the time I was saying, 'I want this, I really want this,' and at the same time I was scared of what might happen if any paparazzi got photos of me in this getup! But of course, it all paid off."
MAURY YESTON: The new songs were inspired by three things. First of all, the general principle is that when you make a film based on a stage musical, you can't simply tape the show -- because if you're going to tape the show, then why are you making a film? In this case, the stage musical was inspired by a film and I worked very hard for eight years trying to make it so "stagey" that you have to look at it and say, "How could this ever have been a film?" The stage show was also inspired by the people who did it, such as Lilianne Montevecchi, Anita Morris, and the wonderful Raul Julia who was so dear to us all, but you can't just say let's do it like that again. You have to make it right for the new performers.
TM: What inspired Sophia Loren's song, "Guarda la Luna"?
MY: Sophia has a beautiful contralto; it's a warm, motherly voice. For the stage, I had written a song for Taina Elg [who played Guido's mother in the original stage version], who was a soprano. I though it was irresponsible to simply transpose a song down, when I really needed to write a new song for Sophia. There was already a melody in the show called "Guido's Waltz" that everybody seemed to adore -- I think I must have stolen it from Eric Satie -- and I thought, why can't I write a lyric to it for Sophia that carries the same idea as Taina's song?
TM: You gave Marion Cotillard, who plays Luisa, a different big number than in the stage musical. Why?
MY: In the stage version, I had written a song for Luisa called "Be On Your Own," in which the actress very effectively just planted her feet on the stage and sang. But that's simply not cinematic. Also, in the stage version, we watched the movie Guido was supposed to make come to nothing, and when Luisa gives him the boot, he's already had that nightmare. But we didn't have the nightmare in the film, so her song "Take It All" becomes that nightmare. In his mind, Luisa is onstage doing a striptease, an act which simultaneously empowers her. That song became one of the greatest collaborative moments of my life -- to not only be inspired by this extraordinary actress, but to have her do the song the way she does it.
TM: Kate Hudson's character, Stephanie, has a very different sounding song called "Cinema Italiano" How did that come about?
MY: "Cinema Italiano" has to do with exposition. Whenever you write something, you can't assume that the audience knows anything coming into your show, so you have to give them information. Here we have a film that takes place in 1965 and the main character is based on famed Italian directors like Fellini, Visconti, and Antonioni. The Italian cinema in the 1960s shaped our culture, our style, our lives -- everything from café lattes to Ray Ban sunglasses and those pointy leather shoes and skinny ties -- but we need to educate the younger audience of today about how profoundly this had an effect on the world. Kate is a terrific dancer and performer -- a firecracker -- so we said: "What if she's an enthusiast representing all of America that was going crazy then for Italian movies like Divorce Italian Style and Marriage Italian Style." So "Cinema Italiano" gives us an opportunity not only to celebrate the 1960s, but to educate the audience and -- may I please use the word -- to entertain them."