The corridors of New York’s historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel are lined with black-and-white photographs of famous visitors and guests who have stayed there in the past. But it is unlikely that the hotel has ever before seen such an august gathering of stars as the group of six Oscar winners and one nominee who met there the other day to talk about their roles in the lavish movie adaptation of the stage musical Nine.
“I was just upstairs with the entire cast, and I still can’t believe it,” says the film’s director, co-writer and choreographer Rob Marshall as he joins me in a fourth-floor suite. “It’s overwhelming.”
From the moment it was announced, Nine was a film that nearly every actress wanted a role in and was willing to audition for. “It was the film everybody wanted to do,” says Kidman.“Rob Marshall had his pick.”
Marshall agrees: “I saw just about every female star in Hollywood. A lot of these women don’t usually audition and I was impressed at how they were putting themselves on the line"
“I cast the majority of parts before I started writing so that I could write specifically for them. It was very important for me to cast people I liked, and I knew I nee
ded to try them in different roles to see who claimed what. Now I can’t imagine it in any other way.”
Cotillard, the French actress who won an Oscar for her role as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, originally auditioned for the role of Contini’s producer, but was cast as his devoted but long-suffering wife; while Cruz read for three roles before Marshall decided she should play the needy mistress.
Javier Bardem was originally scheduled to play the conflicted auteur Contini; Fortunately forMarshall, Day-Lewis, who had read the script because he and Judi Dench share the same agent, announced his interest. The actor, who is extremely selective with his roles and is renowned for his perfectionism, recalls: “When Rob first started telling me about it, I had the same response all the actors had, which was a tremendous desire to attempt the challenge but at the same time a lurking fear that comes with trying to express yourself in a way that is completely outside your sphere of reference."
“We all made fools of ourselves on day one, which you have to do when you’re unsure of things."
“I’ve admired and hoped to work with each and every one of these ladies, but the possibility of working with all of them on the same project was un-thinkable,” he laughs.
A former choirboy, Day-Lewis worked for months, learning Italian and taking singing and dancing lessons to prepare for the role. Then, before filming began, the cast had six weeks of rehearsals followed by two weeks of pre-recording their songs at the Abbey Road studios, during which time they formed a strong camaraderie.
“The great joy of working on a musical is that you have to rehearse, and in doing so you create a company,” says Marshall.
It would be natural to expect that, with so many award-winning actresses working together, egos would clash and sparks would fly, but they all insist this did not happen. “I wondered if we would all kill each other,” laughs Loren. “But, no, it was like a 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.”
Kidman, whose previous singing onscreen in Moulin Rouge earned her an Oscar nomination, agrees: “We just felt really comfortable with each other. We all became good friends because we hung out together and swapped stories and asked each other’s advice.”
She started rehearsals just four weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Sunday Rose. She took her to the set every day because she was breast-feeding, and, when she had a scene, she could call on some of the most glamourous baby-sitters ever.
Fergie (real name Stacey Ferguson) recalls the women going together to aMadonna concert and having “girls’ nights out” at West End restaurants.
“I was very intimidated and nervous, but on the first day we all had lunch together and became very relaxed with each other,” she says. “I find that the so-called A-list actors who are the most successful tend to be the nicest and most down-to-earth people because they have nothing to prove.”