NEW YORK — Nicole Kidman is in a bit of a rush, noticeably eager to wrap up a late-afternoon interview at the Plaza Hotel, as her husband Keith Urban and daughter Sunday Rose, 1, wait in the next room.
She has a hot date with Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard, who have converged on Manhattan from their home bases of Madrid and Paris, respectively, to promote their Golden Globe-nominated song-and-dance extravaganza, Nine, which opens wide on Friday.
"Penelope, Marion and I were meant to be going lingerie shopping after this," says Kidman. "We're all still very good friends."
"You're expected to vie with people, but there was none of that. Sophia (Loren) said we'd either kill each other or like each other. We liked each other," reports Judi Dench, who plays a costume designer in the musical, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a philandering director suffering from writer's block and dealing with the many ladies in his life.
Cotillard, who plays Day-Lewis' wife, established a "beautiful friendship" with his mistress, Cruz, she says.
Seductress Fergie clicked with Vogue reporter Kate Hudson, because "we're the California girls," she says. "We went to the Madonna concert, Penelope, myself, Marion and Kate. Kate and I went out one night and Marion came. Sunday Rose was there on set. I always wanted to go talk baby talk to her."
Here's how each of the ladies soared on set.
The bereft bride
Cotillard, 34, won an Academy Award for playing French chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose but lip-synced in the film. This time, she belted out two tunes herself — and earned another Golden Globe nomination.
Singing, she says, "is an amazing experience. I've always loved to sing. When I was a kid, my favorite musicals were American."
She had to fight for her role in Nine, having three separate auditions — eight months before she took home the Oscar. With endearing honesty, Cotillard gets emotional when asked how the golden guy changed the course of her career.
Without the Oscar, she muses, "I wouldn't have worked in this country like that. I've always wanted to be an actress, I've always wanted to tell stories with amazing people. It makes me so happy, how I am welcomed in this world of cinema here."
Cotillard can relate to her Nine character, a woman coming to terms with the end of her once-passionate relationship. "She's suffering. She wants to be happy with the man she loves, but mostly, she wants him to find his way. She tries to help him, but the problem is the love that made the connection is lost," says Cotillard.
In real life, Cotillard is in a long-term romance with French actor/director Guillaume Canet. Had she been in Luisa's shoes, says Cotillard, "Can I say, if my lover, if my husband cheated on me, I would — I don't know. I just hope it would not happen."
It has been a busy year for the actress, who starred in the Johnny Depp crime drama Public Enemies this summer and just wrapped the Christopher Nolan thriller Inception. To her, selling out "would mean that I would put dirt on my dream. That's really what I feel," says Cotillard. "I'm so fortunate, so lucky to have these beautiful opportunities. I will never do a movie for a bad reason."
The golden goddess
Six weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Kidman found herself in London at singing and dancing rehearsals on a soundstage for Nine director Rob Marshall.
"Rob kept saying to me, 'She has to be a goddess,' " says Kidman of Claudia, the star of Guido's non-existent movie. "I decided to give her a Swedish accent. At that time, in cinema, there were very famous Swedish actresses. I thought that would be a nice flavor mixed in with all these Italians."
Kidman, 42, is no stranger to musicals, having earned a best-actress Oscar nomination for 2001's Moulin Rouge!. But Nine, she says, proved a different experience. "It's an ensemble. The sensibility is different. It's sexy and painful and sad. It runs the gamut of emotions. I'd call it a psychological musical," she says.
She didn't get to keep the full-length frock she wears during her number. But she has her daughter to thank for her curves. "I was wrapped into that dress. I was!" says Kidman. "That's when I had big boobs from the milk. That's the benefit of the breast-feeding."
For the Oscar winner (The Hours, 2002), leaving her baby at home in Nashville, where she lives with her country singer husband, Keith Urban, wasn't an option.
"I just can never be away from her, so she comes wherever I go, as you see. Have baby, will travel. She's OK (on planes), but honestly, we stay in Nashville a lot. That's why I don't work that much," she says. "It's harder now to pack to her up. At 16 months, it's a different type of traveling. When they're 6 weeks, they're easier to travel with. And you're breast-feeding, so it's easy to feed."
The sexy spitfire
The darkest story arc in the film belongs to Cruz, whose performance as Carla, Guido's lover, has earned her Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Cruz says that even though Carla experiences the depths of doomed love, "she wanted to be a lady for him, but she's not. She's a lady, but a different kind of lady. She's tried to become a hundred different women for him."
Carla is both downtrodden and fiery, accommodating and demanding. Cruz, who won the best-supporting-actress Oscar for Vicky Cristina Barcelona this year, has been in a long and low-key relationship with actor Javier Bardem, so she looked for acting inspiration in unexpected places: most notably, the Pink Panther.
"He was sexy in a goofy, strange way. That was the image naturally coming to my mind," says Cruz, 35. "I always saw something a little bit peculiar and goofy about Carla's personality. I found her very attractive to play. Also, I liked exploring the type of obsession she feels for Guido, because she has the hope that she will have a perfect, stable, happy life with him. It's her drug."
Even more challenging than singing and dancing on-screen — and dealing with bleeding hands from her signature ropes number — was ditching her Spanish accent to play an Italian sexpot. "I had to do my Italian accent, and I was very obsessed with that. Every day, I would watch hours and hours of all the Italian actors who did movies in English," says Cruz.
The brassy vamp
Long before she started acting, says Hudson, she sang for fun. And this is the first time she got to do both on-screen.
"I never had the confidence to perform in front of people. I've always been a little nervous. When I was younger, there was not a shy bone in my body. But when I hit high school, that part of me shut down," she says. "I was more interested in film. You're no longer so outward. This was like going back to being a little girl, that feeling you get when go onstage and project. Being able to express outwardly is so fun."
And brutal at times.
"We would take our bustiers off and just have scrapes from the crystals. Bright red little scrapes all over," recalls Hudson, 30. "We all had our war wounds. Fergie had sand in her eye. Penelope had her bleeding fingers and calluses. I had scrapes and bruises on my knees."
Hudson says her son, Ryder, 6, takes after his dad, musician Chris Robinson. "He loves to sing. He loves to dance. You get a guitar on him, and he's mimicking a real guitar player," she says. "Ryder dances to the beat of his own drum already."
Hudson won't discuss her relationship with New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, which the tabloids have subsequently reported is over.
But she will address other rumors, including stories that she's desperate to have more kids: "Contrary to what every tabloid writes, that's not in the forefront of my mind. But I look forward to having more children."
The beach babe
Ultra-fit Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie, 34, had "a blast" playing Saraghina, the prostitute who seduces a young Guido. That's because she got to indulge her love of fattening grub.
"Physically, Saraghina is not about working out or dieting. It's about being Italian and loving food," says Fergie, the last star cast. "So basically, I ate everything I wanted and stopped working out. I ate a lot of fish and chips and frozen enchiladas, and there was this French cheese at the hotel. It was kind of like a Brie. I would eat the entire thing before bed."
Because her song-and-dance number takes place on the beach, Fergie was covered with "sand burns and tambourine bruises — it sounds like a country song!" she says with a laugh.
Which Fergie does her husband, Transformersstar Josh Duhamel, prefer — svelte or zaftig? "He loves everything about transforming. That might sound wrong because of his movie. No pun intended!" says Fergie. "He loves me either way. For him, it didn't really matter."
The no-nonsense friend
For Dench, lending Day-Lewis an ear as his costume designer and close pal Lilli wasn't much of a stretch. "We're old friends. I played his mother in Hamlet, so I know him well. He's adorable. We had a very nice time, especially in the bar of the Eden Hotel in Rome," says Dench, 75.
Dench got inspiration from her colleague, Nine dressmaker Colleen Atwood.
"The part was written for someone with a dry sense of humor, who'd known Guido since he was a little boy. Colleen has quite a way about her," says Dench.
Dench, an Oscar winner for 1998's Shakespeare in Love, shows her flashy side in a dance routine at the end of the film.
"My number was just walking about and carrying on in the nightclub," she says. "I've done a lot of musicals onstage, like Cabaret. It was lovely to do it."