No, the title of Nine doesn’t refer to the number of Academy Awards won by director Rob Marshall’s two prior films (Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha). Nor the combined Oscars earned by the movie’s cast, screenwriter, and cinematographer. It’s as if there were a sign on the audition-room door: Only Oscar winners allowed. ”Can I tell you something? That was so not intentional,” Marshall swears.
Regardless, all eyes are on the director’s adaptation of the 1982 Broadway musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s classic film 8 1/2. Nine follows a movie director (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggling to mount his ninth film — hence the title — and juggling the seven women in his life: his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), his costume designer (Judi Dench), his mother (Sophia Loren), an American journalist (Kate Hudson), and a prostitute (Stacy Ferguson, a.k.a. pop star Fergie). But can Nine achieve what the last Oscar-baiting movie musical — Dreamgirls — didn’t: a Best Picture nomination?
Marshall knows that many viewers loved Dreamgirls‘ staged musical numbers but had a problem with its more organically rendered tunes (like the one Jamie Foxx sang while strutting down an alley). ”The big question always is, why do people sing?” he says. ”One of the reasons I looked to Nine was that its songs are fantasy. So they can take place in an alternate reality.” In all, the film features 12 songs, three of which Nine composer Maury Yeston wrote specifically for the film.
Day-Lewis wasn’t initially supposed to play conflicted auteur Guido Contini: In the summer of 2007, Marshall enlisted Javier Bardem for the role (embodied by Raul Julia in the original production and Antonio Banderas in the 2003 Broadway revival). ”It looked like it might be happening,” the director says. But soon after winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for No Country for Old Men, Bardem abruptly dropped out. ”I think he was just spent,” says Marshall, who was then surprised to learn that Day-Lewis (that year’s Best Actor Oscar winner, for There Will Be Blood) had read the script — he and Dench share the same agent — and was interested in playing Guido. (Once Day-Lewis signed on, the production was moved from Toronto to a studio outside London so the actor, who’s in virtually every scene, could be closer to his family in Ireland.)
Although the notion of Day-Lewis as a song-and-dance man seems bizarre, it’s actually not that far-fetched. ”Daniel sings — he’d sung with a band at one point,” Marshall says. ”But he had never connected that you could sing and act simultaneously. This process was really about discovering that he could communicate through song with the same range he has as an actor. He worked every day for months and months and months before we started, like an Olympian.” He certainly impressed his castmates. ”To say that he’s going to be brilliant I’m sure is not a surprise for anybody,” Cruz reports. ”But it’s mind-blowing what he does.”
Cruz wasn’t so confident about her own performance — particularly because she’s entrusted with perhaps the show’s best-known song, the sexy ”A Call From the Vatican.” ”I was dreaming every night about the number,” she says. ”For months I would sing to everybody, in the street, in my house, everywhere.” She had a lot of support: The film’s two-month rehearsal period created a strong camaraderie among the cast. ”We all just hung out in this little greenroom that they built out of cloth on the set,” says Kidman. ”They just threw a couple of couches in there and we’d all flop around.”
Though Kidman is no stranger to musicals (she even earned an Oscar nod for 2001’s Moulin Rouge!), Nine‘s schedule required her to begin rehearsals just four weeks after giving birth to her daughter Sunday Rose. ”I had my baby right there on the set the whole time because I was still breast-feeding her,” Kidman says. ”I was really nervous. I kept saying, ‘You’ve got to forgive me, I’m a better dancer than this!”’ Luckily, she was surrounded by the most glamorous day-care providers in history. ”All the girls would help out,” she says. ”I’ve got a photo of Sunday Rose with Sophia Loren holding her. I mean, Oh my God.”