Daniel Day-Lewis, Fergie and Marion Cotillard live life Italian-style in 'Nine'
from Examiner.com / by Carla Hay
“Nine” is one of those rare movie musicals in which most of its stars are Oscar winners.The film’s cast includes Oscar-winning actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and Penélope Cruz. Oscar nominee Kate Hudson and Grammy-winning singer Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) round out the stellar “Nine” lineup.
The movie musical “Nine” (directed by Rob Marshall, who also helmed the 2002 Oscar-winning musical “Chicago”) is based on the stage production of the same name, which was inspired by the Federico Fellini film “8 1/2.” Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous Italian filmmaker who’s under pressure to start his next movie, but he has writer’s block and doesn’t even have a script or concept for the film.
In the middle of this professional crisis, Guido is dealing with conflicting emotions about women from his past and present: his long-suffering wife, Luisa (played by Cotillard); his demanding mistress Carla (played by Cruz); his costume designer/longtime confidante, Lilli (played by Dench); his actress muse Claudia Jenssen (played by Kidman); a star-struck Vogue magazine writer named Stephanie (played by Hudson); a prostitute from his childhood named Saraghina (played by Fergie); and his late mother (played by Loren). At a “Nine” press conference in New York City, Day-Lewis, Fergie, Cotillard and Dench sat down to talk about their experiences making this musical extravaganza.
Judi, you were quite sexy chanteuse when you performed your solo number in “Nine.” How did the costume make you feel? And is there a behind-the-scenes story you can share?
Dench: I trained as a costume designer before I trained as an actress, so I know how important it is to have a costume that empowers you. [“Nine” costume designer] Colleen Atwood designs something quite organically on you. She will perhaps do a drawing, but when it comes to actually seeing you in it, certain things will change and she will ask you how you feel and things. At least, getting into that costume I felt that I might, in fact, be part of a nightclub in Paris at some time. So that is unbelievably empowering and does half the work for you. Then you’ve got to do the rest of it, which isn’t easy!
What was a help in all that [filming of the scene] is that it happened on a stage. And the only reference back I had was I played Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” in London. And suddenly, I thought, “Oh yes, this is what this [scene] reminds me of: this kind of stand-up person who speaks to the audience.” So that reference for me was very, very helpful. It was difficult for the audience sitting there, take after take after take after take, to still look as if they’re enjoying it and having a nice time and smoking a cigarette. You wanted to scream at them, “For Christ’s sake! Look as if you’re enjoying it!” I didn’t get a chance to do that. But anyway, they stuck with me until the end. It was a long day.
Marion, your strip-tease scene in the movie wasn’t in the “Nine” stage musical. What inspiration or what did you refer to when you were doing that scene?
Cotillard: I would say I referred to her [Luisa]. What was interesting with Luisa is you have many layers, many faces of her in the movie. She’s someone who keeps things inside because she doesn’t really know at that moment in her life how she feels. She’s lonely. It takes courage to end a love story, to tell the man you love that you can’t take anymore; you can’t be so empty anymore.
What is very interesting with Luisa is you have the face of this woman who is handling things, and then when the disrespect is too much to take … Because she’s an actress too, she has things inside of her that need to come out. The anger is everything that’s sexy. It’s anger, it’s fierce, it’s sad. My reference was her pain.
Daniel, why did this role in “Nine” appeal to you? And how did you feel about doing the musical numbers?
Day-Lewis: Nervous as hell, like everyone else. I didn’t really ask myself initially why I was drawn so much to it. Tony [Minghella’s] script was so beautiful, but I could have appreciated that from the outside without necessarily being drawn into the world he was describing. I suppose that anyone who does any kind of creative work at some time in their life, and it tends to happen as you grow into middle-age, you come to a time when you really question more and more frequently whether you have anything else to offer. And at its very worst, you feel utterly bereft of whatever creative force it takes to do that work. And so I suppose I was interested in that dilemma for a man who’s about to shoot a film in five days and he’s living in a wasteland of his own making.
Fergie, what did you draw from in your life that you put into your character in “Nine”?
Fergie: Going into this musical. I’m definitely “the singer” going into this A-list acting world. So it was intimidating for me, flying over and knowing I was going to be amongst these people who were at the top of their game in their field. I really just thought, “You know, maybe I’ll just sit in a corner and kind of be a sponge and not speak unless spoken to.” Kind of just watch what these people do and how they hone their craft. The first person I met there was Daniel, and I think it was 15 minutes later I was standing by a piano and I had to belt out the song right in front of him. I’d admired his work for years and I had to push through it and just say, “What the hell?” This is what I do.
That’s kind of how I handled the audition. I was hungry for this role, I really wanted it, and I was a really good student. I came to London with all my tools, all the Fellini films, studying old Italian actresses and how they walked and spoke with their hands and just really studying this character from that period.
What I can bring to the performance part of it is things that come more naturally to me that is performing, which is the more extroverted style of performing. What was interesting is that during the [“Be Italian”] number, I’m not moving like myself. During this film, whenever I would sit down, I would never cross my legs, because that’s not how Saraghina would sit. She wasn’t a lady. I would walk in a different physicality than I would use myself.
But the performance aspect of it is pretty much ingrained in me. It was more about, for me, putting that together with the thoughts. I say “be Italian” many times in the song, and it was important to me that every time I said, “be Italian,” for it to have a different meaning, because there are so many things about being Italian. There’s love of life, there’s love of food, there’s love of sex, love of drink, love of dancing, love of singing. And every one was different. So it was putting all of that into it behind what I already knew and combining the two.
What was fun for me — and I’m really excited about this — when we do the reality section of the film, it’s not about performing and being broad at all. It’s about keeping it still and everything is internal, and just using that and counting on that. And that’s what really excited me. I definitely have caught the [acting] bug, because it’s another way to express yourself as an artist — and getting to see these people do their thing.
Fergie, how do you separate your professional life with your private life?
Fergie: I’m pretty good about that. I would get off work and we hangout. We went to the Madonna concert after one of our work days. [She laughs and says jokingly] And that was private! I’m not as Method as someone like Daniel [Day-Lewis]. I’m pretty much go into it, I wear that hat, and then I leave it there …
How did you get your role in “Nine”?
Fergie: As soon as I knew this part was available, basically, I had been touring [for my solo album] “The Dutchess.” I had been touring for about five-and-a-half years straight with the [Black Eyed] Peas. And if any of you know anything about touring, it’s basically different hotel rooms every other night, and it’s a very rock’n’roll lifestyle. And they planned this big tour for me, and I said, “You know what? I’m not 110 percent on this right now. I’m a little bit burned out. I need to take a break.”
Then I found out that this [role in “Nine”] was available and I was like, “I need to audition for this.” Immediately, like a student, I go on BlueGobo.com, I’m studying all the different Saraghinas. “8 1/2,” I’m watching it different times, trying to find new things. And I just dove into it.
Cotillard: I didn’t know there was a play, a musical on stage. And actually, I auditioned for three roles [in “Nine”] before Luisa. What was funny, actually, was my memory of the last audition was that I couldn’t sing the song. I was with [“Nine” musical conductor] Paul Bogaev, and [Luisa’s solo number] “My Husband Makes Movies” is kind of difficult. And I couldn’t get the whole melody at the end. I was working with Paul, and we had and hour, and I knew Rob [Marshall] was coming with [“Nine” producer/choreographer] John [DeLuca] and I don’t remember exactly who was there. And it was in this tiny room, and I told myself, “Well, I’m going to improvise something at the end if I can’t do the right melody.”
And sometimes, miracles happen. And I remember they came — Rob, John — and I was very nervous, because I really couldn’t sing the entire song without making mistakes. And I started that song, and I felt that we were waiting for the moment I would crash down. And then a miracle happened and I could sing the song without mistakes. And I remember Paul looking at me, singing what I couldn’t sing before …
And this day, I had a very special feeling about Luisa. I actually have to say that we went through the process and at that time I was working so much. Two days before, I had this dancing audition and I had to learn so many choreographies. What they don’t know is I was about to cancel the whole thing, because it was my dream to do a musical, but I thought, “My reputation is [being] a hard worker. If they go there and they find out that I haven’t worked the whole thing, I’m going to miserable!” And I went anyway because I thought, “OK, I’m going to improvise my hair or something.” So when I went to the third audition, I didn’t really realize that I was auditioning for Luisa, actually.
Dench: For 52 years, I have been doing plays that, unless they’re Shakespeare, I’ve never read. I’ve just said, “yes,” when I’ve been offered something. I always think I’m very lucky when something comes along. So I didn’t know about “Nine.” It was talked about quite a long time ago.
And then suddenly the day came when I was asked to meet Rob and John at Claridge’s in London. And I went in and I looked at them both and said, “Yes! Yes! Why would I ever not want to do this?” But I had not heard [Lilli’s solo number] “Folies Bergère.” I had not seen it. I just take it on complete instinct. And I knew straight away the minute I walked in and met them that I passionately wanted to be part of this. And I can’t believe that it happened, and I’m thrilled!
Daniel, did you have any singing lessons? And did you learn Italian for the movie?
Day-Lewis: I didn’t learn Italian for the movie. I learned some Italian over the years. A couple of people have said, “Oh, you’re a fluent Italian speaker.” I wish I was, but I’m not. I understand quite a lot.
Rob convinced me, really against my better judgment, that I would be able to do this thing. I tried to think of every excuse I could not to, because I thought he needed somebody else. I think I gave him a few names actually! But he said, “No, I think you can sing.” So I wanted to put it to the test. So Paul Bogaev, the musical director Marion mentioned, came over to the place I was staying, and I tried to stagger through the songs with him. And quite clearly, I was incapable of singing them, but Rob still managed to convince me that it would be OK.
Rather like Judi, even though I knew a little more than Judi did about the demands, I took it on blind trust but had severe doubts about it. I knew I would enjoy the work, but I had no idea what the results of the work would be. I was a choir boy in the local church, when I was a little schoolboy, but other than that, I hadn’t done any singing to speak of.
Daniel, have you every had moments like Guido when you question your beliefs and abilities?
Day-Lewis: Only every single one.
Can you explain how you can “claim” a role when you audition for it?
Fergie: It’s quite funny, because I remember getting ready for this audition and I was thinking, “OK, I want this. I really want this.” And so I’ve learned ever since I was a little girl, when you want something, you walk in as that character. So I’ getting dressed and trying to make my lips look fuller and red and more Italian. I’m trying to contour my nose to make it look more Italian. I’m doing the hair and push [she points to her breasts] making everything look bigger.
And as I’m leaving — we’re in London, mind you — and I was just scared that the paparazzi was going to get a picture of me walking out of a hotel looking like and go, “What was she thinking?” So I just came there and I really wanted it. I have not seen my audition tape, but I’m assuming it’s pretty risqué. I did research. I really feel you should do something unless you really want it, unless you really want to do it, because there’s somebody else’s that’s going to want it. And then that role is theirs. But I really wanted it and I was willing to put in all the work it needed to be that character.
What about the anxiety that actors have about performing?
Day-Lewis: That anxiety is an aphrodisiac.
Daniel, you a play a character surrounded by incredible women and your female co-stars are incredible women in real life. Did you find that that affected how you played your character in “Nine”?
Day-Lewis: It helped. [He laughs.] It really helped a lot. When I was first talking to Rob about maybe doing this work, he talked about the rehearsal period, which initially made me step backwards, because I don’t tend to rehearse. I don’t like to rehearse. I couldn’t understand how you cold go through eight weeks of rehearsals without exhausting every possibility to the point where you’re lying gasping on the floor.
And yet, little by little, I realized that the demands of the music were such that there was no possible way of achieving that thing at all if you don’t go about it with that kind of discipline. That’s the only way it works … It’s been a long time since I worked in the theater, but one of the things I most loved about the theater and the rehearsal process wasn’t the exploring of the text, because I thought, “We’ll be exploring the text for six months in performance.” It was really to do with the bond of trust that is formed between the group of strangers.
Although I knew and admired hugely each of the people that I knew I’d be working with — Judi I’d worked with once before; I sent her a note saying, “I promise not to run out on you this time.”
Was that for “Hamlet”?
Day-Lewis: Yes, it was. But it was really that time during rehearsals where I felt that work was done, not just with the discipline of doing the music — and in the girls’ case, the dancing as well — but just forming those bonds of trust you need to have so that you can then you can live near the edge of anarchy, which is where most creative work happens.
Daniel and Judi, can you describe working with one another?
Day-Lewis: She’s naughty. She’s very naughty. She’s a very, very naughty girl.
Dench: What is terrific about having worked with somebody is you create a shorthand, so that when it comes to the next time, if you’re lucky enough that it comes to the next time, that there is a degree of shorthand between you that you know each other. Therefore, the initial thing of having to act with somebody you don’t know — a lot of the time at the beginning of rehearsals is just getting to know how that person works, how they react, and understanding about them, which in a way, takes up time that you should use playing your character or being that person.
But we, because of Daniel and I working together [before], we didn’t have that. And much of our relationship in the film is exactly what we’re lucky enough to have. And that, in a way, was there for us to draw on. And we did draw on it, didn’t we? [Day-Lewis laughs.] I think we drew on it.
Day-Lewis: We did. Also, the other thing about rehearsing is, you know, Fergie mentioned that moment when she had to sing at the piano, and I have to say — I said this a few times to people — that the first [“Nine”] musical number I remember listening to was “Be Italian,” and it was a fairly early stage of the rehearsal. And I thought, “We might as well just go home now,” because it was so magnificent and we still had six weeks of rehearsals there.
But the thing about rehearsals and relating to the business of trust is you make complete fools of yourselves in that process, and you have to. You have to be able to do that and be allowed to do that. And it was very early on in that period of time that we had to do things as un-self-consciously as possible which we knew were going to be difficult in front of each other. And once you’ve done that, it sort of clears the way a little bit. It doesn’t really mater anymore whether you’re a fool or not. You have to be able to be a fool.
Daniel, you’re a Method actor, so can you talk about staying in the Guido character off-camera? Did you want people to call you Guido when you weren’t filming? And to any of the women on the panel, how did you relate to that way of acting?
Day-Lewis: I don’t mind what people call me, within reason. I’m only too happy if they choose to call me by the name of my character, but it isn’t written on the call sheet. It’s not like that … Everyone has their way of working. My way of working is individual to me, just as Marion’s in to her, and Fergie and Judi and soon and so forth. All you can do is to be true to your own way of working. That can only be of use in a company situation when you’re not making demands on the people you’re working with.
But how do you stay in character 24 hours a day?
Day-Lewis: I don’t know. Like all of us, I’m just interested in a world we’re trying to create. And it takes time and energy to enter into an unknown world and unknown culture and see the world through different eyes. So just from my point of view, it makes better sense, I suppose, for me, to once having entered that world to stay there because I like it. There’s nothing mysterious about it.
Fergie: I have to say that Daniel is really charming. We’d go in our dressing rooms and find this little note on this stationery, and I’d open it up and it would be Guido stationery. And right in the middle of the note to would say, “Guido.” They were very cute and very charming … I kind of didn’t want to relate to him face-to-face very much, because I respect everybody’s way of work. My character is with Guido is basically him as a 9-year-old boy, and I didn’t want to treat Daniel Day-Lewis as a 9-year-old boy. I created this space. I thought, “We can have our moment to together, and that will be it.”
Daniel, can you talk about working with Sophia Loren?
Day-Lewis: She’s a mighty woman. She has a real laugh as well. She’s naughty, too. One of the great joys of working on this film for all of us, most of what she will be known for in the English-speaking world is the films she made in the English language or films she made in this country. But when you discover or rediscover the films she made in her own language, she is such a sublimely gifted actress.