Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nine queens share their crown

AS I walk in to meet Nicole Kidman it seems appropriate that the temperature in the room feels like it has dropped several degrees.Kidman has always had a reputation as a bit of an ice queen, but this is ridiculous. Surely she isn't so cold that the air around her begins to freeze as a result of her very presence?
As it turns out, she is anything but. In fact, the very first thing she expresses is concern that I'm going to be too cold wearing just a shirt. It's not only Kidman who is in the room today but also Judi Dench, another slightly fearsome character, who is one of her many co-stars inNine, the new musical from Chicago director Rob Marshall.
Dench, too, is feeling the cold and so they grab a blanket and drape it over their legs as they sit huddled next to each other on the couch. They almost look like a mother and daughter on a park bench feeding the ducks.

As the interview progresses, it teeters dangerously close to farce for much of the time.Kidman and Dench finish each other's sentences, ask each other questions and Kidman seems consistently amused by whatever Dench has to say. And she has a point.

For Dench, Nine is the first time she has performed a musical on film. "I hadn't sung on film ever before, although I had in the theatre," Dench explains. "But I found that whole business easier because you can do it over and over again until you get what [Marshall] wants. Unlike the theatre where you can get off on the wrong foot one night and you never get back on the other one. Or you're like me and you fall over. I've fallen over in everything I've been in except three things."

"Have you?" Kidman interjects with an air of comic concern.

"Yes," Dench deadpans in return.

For someone who is frequently accused of having had Botox, Kidman, in fact, has a remarkably expressive face. She's extremely funny, not only in what she is saying, but in her facial expressions. Maybe it's because the attention is focused on her blue eyes, which she rolls and manipulates like a hypnotist.

She jokes that they will take Nine to the stage for a one-off performance. She then calls for aNine float at Sydney Mardi Gras. "I loved seeing Satine [her character in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge] on a float. It would be really good this year to see if they do a Nine float. I'm proposing it."

I tell her that's the second official proposal of the first five minutes of the interview. "I've got a lot of ideas," she responds. She's 42, but looks much younger. She has always denied having any sort of cosmetic surgery. "I am completely natural," she told Marie Claire in 2007. The thing is, people find this hard to accept. The day after our meeting, the papers of full of articles wondering how she looks so great at her age. It's not hard to read between the lines. A musical like Nine, of course, is all about looking good. I

I tell Kidman that I found it one of the least camp musicals I've ever seen, and as far as I was concerned it was all the better for it. Having starred in Moulin Rouge, a film at the other end of this spectrum, Kidman knows what it takes to make a camp musical ("feathers" is Dench's hunch).
"It's interesting that you say you enjoyed it because my husband is not a fan of musicals. He can take them or leave them, but he said after that he loved it. He sat and said that there were things in it that he could relate to as a man and he did not expect that at all. He said: 'I thought I was going to be sitting accompanying you and I would be glad when it was all over'." At this, she breaks into hysterics of laughter, just about managing to compose herself to continue.

"Instead he really had a good time. There's a few people in my life whose opinion I value and as long as they say it's good then it doesn't matter how the film is received or what happens; I just feel that it achieved what I wanted it to achieve. My mother hasn't seen it yet and she is the other person."

Of course, Kidman was joined in the cast by another of Tom Cruise's exes, Penelope Cruz, but she is adamant that despite the presence of so many headstrong women they lived in harmony as they filmed together in London. "There were no cat-fights and no diamonds flying everywhere," Kidman says.

"How many times have we been asked this? Dench interrupts. "You'd love to find out that somebody gave Sophia a great big push."

Then, of course, there's Daniel Day-Lewis, giving a performance that will surely lead to yet another Oscar nomination next year. The previous evening at the premiere Marshall described him as "the greatest actor alive today". I ask Dench, one of the few who could take Day-Lewis on toe-to-toe, what his secret is.

"He will work and work and work, without anybody seeing, so he totally knows how that person walks, sleeps, eats, looks, puts his hand down. Every single detail he has worked out. How he does that I don't know, but he does it and it doesn't interfere with any of us and he doesn't suddenly become somebody you don't know. He suddenly becomes the person when you're playing a scene. Suddenly there is Guido in front of you and not Daniel. He's pretty unique."

Though they are all only on stage at the same time in the film's opening number, the cast spent six weeks together prior to filming their dance routines -- a period that is brilliantly revealed in the film's closing credits. "That was a luxury and necessity too," Dench says. "We were all together from the beginning for about six weeks. It was actually like being a theatre company."
"We could probably have done it as a show, right?" Kidman chips in. "We could have done it as a revue."
"And we still might," says Dench.
I'm not sure if it's a threat or merely something to get Kidman laughing. Whatever its intention, it succeeds.

By Evan Fanning

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