Interview: Rob Marshall (director, NINE)

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
December 28th, 2009


Rob Marshall created a very successful and acclaimed film with his feature directing debut, the movie musical, CHICAGO. The director's first cinematic effort won Best Picture at the Oscars, and Marshall won the award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures from the Director's Guild of America. Mr. Marshall began artistically on the stage, starting as a dancer and then becoming a choreographer. His next project after CHICAGO was MEMOIRS OF GEISHA, which definitely wasn't a musical. Marshall's third and latest film, NINE is, like CHICAGO, a musical and it features Daniel Day-Lewis and plenty of other A-listers showing us what they've got musically. The recent release of NINE allowed me the opportunity to talk to director Rob Marshall, who is a very thoughtful interview subject. And yes, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4 came up, but probably not how you would think.

Your films seem to have a female motif that highlights strong female characters. What is the inspiration behind that element to your work?

It's funny, I've never really analyzed that as my own work. To me, women are some of the most interesting characters. We have so many fantastic, complicated male characters in films and sometimes it's just sort of the wife and that's it, and so I guess I'm intrigued by female characters and everything that goes along with that, and their vulnerabilities and their strengths.

When you begin a project like this, where does your mind start? Is it always directing-orientated, even with your background and other duties like being the choreographer?

Well ,the first thing you think of is as a director...for me the biggest question, the biggest sort of challenge is why are they [actors] singing? Why do people sing on screen? You have to solve that question immediately. One of the reasons I liked the idea of doing NINE...the musical numbers are in a surreal, fantastic space as opposed to reality. In other words they are sort of three different realities in the movie. Which is reality, and the fantasy of the musical numbers in his mind, and also the past. And so solving that major conceptual idea - the fact that the numbers could take place on an alternate base, helps me understand, helps me solve a musical on a film.

NINE is based on the Tony-winning and popular musical with the same name, and on top of that the musical is based on a very famous and very admired film in Fellini's 8 1/2. Did NINE's background intimidate you at all?

It's interesting, we follow a tradition of classic movies made into musicals, like "Pygmalion" made into MY FAIR LADY,
or NINOTCHKA for instance turns into "Silk Stockings", or even Fellini's film NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, which turns into "Sweet Charity"...that said 8 1/2 is such a brilliant that you have to actually immediately have to take a left turn. The saving grace for me, when you're doing NINE, for instance, is that we're completely different genre, we're a musical. So you're immediately doing something else, but I remember when we were working with Anthony Minghella [co-screenwriter of NINE] on the material, he said we have to sort of put that away, which is what we did. You study it, and know it, then you have to put it away, and start taking your own path and do something else.

One thing I really enjoy about your movies is the camera shots, and in the theater you don't really have the benefit of using a camera to create the great visual shots that you do in your films. Also, on the stage it is harder to control what the audience focuses on than with a movie. Is the use of a camera and what you are able to do with it something that makes you really like to do the films?

Exactly, you hit the nail on the head. It's such a thrill to get to work on film, as a director and also as a choreographer because you can really bring something to life in a completely different way, there are no limitations. In fact, I find myself putting limitations on myself in film because it is endless, you can do anything, but that is the great luxury, you can cut to something that you want everybody to see as oppose to on stage where people have the choice to look where they want to look. That is one of the thrills of working on film for me, and one of the reasons it's been exciting for me to move from theater into film.

Your feature film debut was with CHICAGO, a musical. Then you made MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, not a musical. Now, you've made the musical NINE, and the word is you will be doing the fourth installment in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, which won't be a musical. So far, you have alternated between a musical, then a non-musical with your films. It that at all intentional, or has it just happened that way? Does it have to do you with not wanting to get pigeon-holed as only a director of musicals?

It's really about's really about the idea of being able to stretch yourself and that's why I look for something different, because I don't want to do the same thing over and over again. Why? You know, it's sort of worked out that way, but it's been nice because you approach everything differently and that is one of the joys of working, you go on an adventure, and it's a new one each time.

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  • samanthaurban

    Yay! My question was asked! Thanks, GATW!

  • RustyGordon

    It is a really good question. Thanks for letting us use it.

  • RustyGordon

    It is a really good question. Thanks for letting us use it.

  • Toddler Cups

    I hope you have a great day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

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