CHICAGO - Q&A with Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and director Rob Marshall
Movie Review by Toby White
Following the screening of the film, PHASE9 joined the pack of journalists coached off to Claridges for a chat with stars, Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, and director Rob Marshall for the official London press conference for CHICAGO.
Mr Marshall, what were the challenges in bringing to the screen such an enormous stage hit?
ROB MARSHALL: I think the hard thing about it was that it was created specifically for the theatre, it was originally called Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, that meant that all the songs were presentational songs and bringing that to film was a tricky prospect because clearly you don't have an audience [to present to] so it needed a strong conceptual idea. That was the biggest problem in bringing it to film, for the past twenty years people have tried to do it and I think everybody looked towards this idea of how it could be done and there've been a lot of scripts and a few directors along the way...
RICHARD GERE [interrupting]: I remember you told me you read one script that started in a street and a sewer trap opened up and a guy came out and started singing, I mean they tried every possible thing...
ROB MARSHALL: This is true. Isn't that wonderful? It was actually a construction worker and he came out and sang [sings] "Come on, babe, why don't ya..." [laughter] and they showed that to me and I was, like, that doesn't work...so that was the hardest thing to figure out...
Miss Zellweger, were you in any way intimidated by showing off routines on screen when all these other actresses have played this part on stage?
RENEE ZELLWEGER: Well, I like that you've put it that way [laughs]...I think I was but I, and I always go back to him [points to Marshall], because that's where it started and he put me in it and he convinced me that it would work. There was never a moment of Rob being wrong, he had it all in his head.
ROB MARSHALL: -but Renee's a natural singer and dancer, it was very easy to do...
RENEE ZELLWEGER: ...he conceptualised it and he choreographed it and then he played everyone's part and he showed us all so that everybody knew exactly what to do...
Mr Gere, it's been a while since you last strutted your stuff, in song and dance...
RICHARD GERE: [looks quizzical] Oh, in song and dance! [Laughter]
...so I was wondering whether you thought you may be a little bit rusty?
RICHARD GERE: Well, Robert and I had our first meeting in a restaurant in New York and - I'd read the script and really liked the script and thought it had a lot more going for it than the stage production - and he said I had to audition but everyone else hadn't, so we were in the meeting and I was thinking "Is he going to get me to sing and am I going to let him get me to sing?" and there was a point where he said, "Let's just fool around for a bit, find the right key for you" and I was like [sarcastically] "Thanks, Rob, but I'm not going to audition for you. I'll sing in character and have fun doing that but I don't tap dance." Then he said, "Is that the issue? Don't worry, we'll get you the best teacher in the world and if that doesn't work we'll find something else to put in its place." Fortunately, what you see is all the good stuff...
There's a theory that musicals don't work on screen any more, I wondered was this a consideration?
ROB MARSHALL: For Miramax, very much so, I kept getting told how high risk it was. We were scared but also very excited about it as well, the thing with musicals is that they can be brilliant but when they're bad, they're really bad so it was like this big white elephant but also they are a true American art form. I find you just have to know how to present them, to find a way to do it...
To follow on, Richard and Renee, because of the risks you were taking did anyone advise you that it was too much to do?
RICHARD GERE: Not for me, actually it was my agent who was pushing it much more than I was. I was a little resistant because of the stage production because that was done so well. I'd just done a very intense movie called UNFAITHFUL and, at the very least, I was going to have fun doing this.
RENEE ZELLWEGER: I read the script and just loved it and, really, I didn't care what anybody else thought, Rob had the vision and I thought that was great and I just wanted to be a part of it.
Do the think the subject matter has any relevance today?
ROB MARSHALL: It's funny but it's unbelievably relevant today. In 1946 when it was originally written it was relevant then in a major way because at that time all these jazz players were coming from nowhere and becoming huge stars and it's the same today with people...it's THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW, it's celebrity boxing, it's all that.
Richard, you have a background in musicals but it's been a while, had you been actively looking for a musical or did this just come along at the right time?
RICHARD GERE: Back in New York in the late sixties, early seventies at a time when there were all these musicals, I had a parallel career as a studio musician as well as acting and my agent, who has been my agent for 30 years, started as a theatre agent in New York, he used to represent chorus girls and was totally into the whole musical thing so it was kind of his wet dream that he had a client who was musical.
Was there a dance routine or any songs that did cause you trouble? Particularly the ventriloquist part, or was that more fun to do?
RICHARD GERE: We shot that in reality and then shot it on stage and we didn't know which lines were going to be done in which environment, we shot it first in front of the press in the film then we went into the studio for the other set and there were all these guys behind us doing these circus routines and it was, like, no-one is going to be watching me because these guys were doing these incredible things.
ROB MARSHALL: But you have to understand this was a collaboration, they [points to Gere and Zellweger] brought these characters to life in a way that I could only imagine, they're playing the world of CHICAGO at that time and at the same time they're playing the vaudeville, that's why it worked because we had these actors who could do anything.
Miss Zellweger, you've not been in musicals before, had you, in fact, seen CHICAGO on stage before you were approached?
RENEE ZELLWEGER: I knew the story but I'd not seen CHICAGO but I had always been a fan of musicals, my father took me to see them from a very early age.
To follow on from that, Richard and Rob, this is a return to the classic MGM style of musicals, what were your favourites?
RICHARD GERE: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.
RENEE ZELLWEGER: Oh, that one too! [Swoons] Oh, Gene Kelly.
RICHARD GERE: My parents were forties' parents so musicals were very much a part of their life and they took me to a lot. But what happened is that musicals started to disrespect their audience and not take them seriously and just bombard them with general entertainment, they disregarded story and their art and I think that's why we care more about the ones that work.
ROB MARSHALL: Yeah, for that reason we eliminated anything that didn't tell the story in the right way. My favourite film musical? I loved THE BANDWAGON of course, CABARET and SINGING' IN THE RAIN is a really perfect piece.
Renee, Catherine [Zeta-Jones] has a lot of experience with singing and dancing, did that make you feel you had to prove yourself more?
RENEE ZELLWEGER: No, I didn't worry about that. I walked in on the first day and Catherine was there and got into it and I thought: "Alright, here we go."
Did she give you any advice?
RENEE ZELLWEGER: Only about the dress. [Laughter]
ROB MARSHALL: Actually Catherine came out with the best line, near the end of the shoot, I asked her if she would want to do Broadway and she just said, "You know, darling, I'd really like to do Vegas."