In the new musical from Rob Marshall (who directed Chicago), Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a fictional Italian film director in mid-’60s Rome. Contini has lost his mojo and might be about to lose his marriage if he doesn’t cease the endless womanising with his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his leading lady (Nicole Kidman) and even a journalist (Kate Hudson), and return instead to the arms of his long-suffering wife (Marion Cotillard).
Based on a 1982 stage show that was itself a loose spin on Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½, Nine gives us a rather different look at Day-Lewis. This time out, the renowned master of the intense, dark performance is seen singing, dancing and buzzing his way about Rome in a powder-blue Fiat sports car. Time Out asks: what’s that all about?
You’re back in the fray pretty quickly with this film.
A friend of mine, when I told him I was doing this, said: ‘My God, you’re in danger of becoming prolific!’ [Laughs] Yeah, I hadn’t intended to go back to work. I really hadn’t. It wasn’t a good moment, just from the family point of view. Rebecca, my wife, had just made a film in Connecticut and we decamped there for a few months and home-schooled the boys. We just thought we couldn’t do it again. It really wasn’t the right moment to go back to work.
We’re impressed Rob Marshall offered you a musical.
He probably knew that I’d come up with every excuse I could not to do it – including giving him a list of names of actors that I thought would be far better than me.
How did he persuade you?
The truth is that Rob could charm the birds out of the trees. It was a lost cause trying to put up a struggle. He managed to convince all of us that over a period of time he could turn a squeak into a roar. I don’t know how he did that. I told him straight out I couldn’t sing. He said: ‘You can.’ I said: ‘No I can’t.’ At that point, we got someone in to play the piano and I tried to stagger through one of the songs. And I said: ‘See, I can’t sing.’ And he said: ‘No, you can.’ Because he knew we’d be working for eight weeks of rehearsal and he was convinced. I took it on trust, really.
There’s a very moving scene when you dance with Italian acting legend Sophia Loren, who plays the ghost of your character’s mother.
Oh, I enjoyed that! My own mum passed away last year and I’m sorry she didn’t get to see this film, but she was so tickled at the idea of Sophia playing my mum. She was delighted. I’m sure she wouldn’t have approved of all the people who have been my mum over the years. But that one scored a real hit.
Did you worry that the format of the musical would limit your ability to act?
That was one of the questions I had for Rob, because I hadn’t been a follower of musicals, to say the least. I loved the Astaire musicals when I was younger. And Mary Poppins, I loved that as a kid. But then there was a huge gap. If somebody had put a musical in front of me, I’d have thought: ‘Why are you singing? Don’t do that. Get on with the story.’ Then I saw Moulin Rouge, which I loved. And Chicago. But one of my first questions to Rob was: ‘How do you marry those apparently incompatible worlds of spoken word and song?’ Where is reality within that?
Your co-stars are impressive, especially Penélope Cruz, who gives it her all for one raunchy number. Did they make you leave the room for the rude stuff?
Well, here’s the thing. I had an access-all-areas pass. That was the beauty of playing the director! Obviously with their permission. But I sat in on all the rehearsals. That’s how I spent a lot of my time all day, at the rehearsals with the girls, watching them develop through incredibly hard work, bit by bit, towards what you finally see.
You’re often asked to explain your ‘method’. How did you prepare for this, away from formal rehearsals?
Ha ha – you will never know!
Nine is in cinemas now. Read our review at www.timeoutdubai.com/films.