CHICAGO - Q&A with director Rob Marshall
CHICAGO Q&A from the New York press junket with Renee Zellweger, John C Reilly, Queen Latifah and Rob Marshall
Can you talk about the casting of CHICAGO?
It was a real challenge because musicals aren't made that often, so how can you figure out who can do what? It was very trickly. Catherine was first cast. She was the most obvious because we knew of her theatre background. I had heard she had been in 42ND STREET and as a kid had been in BUGSY MALONE and ANNIE. So after I saw a tape of her singing and dancing on the Olivier Awards it was very clear that she had the skills. I met with her and that was that. I had heard of Richard's background in musicals, he had done GREASE in the West End playing Danny Zucco. He had done some rock musicals in the States at the beginning of his career. I saw THE COTTON CLUB and knew he played the cornet and the piano and was musical, he sang a little in that. So I met with him and he was looking for something challenging, something new. So he was really excited about this. He said "Rob you have to trust me on this, I can sing and dance. I can't tap you are going to have to teach me to do that." So we spent three months every day working on that tap dance. He is an incredibly hard worker so that was exciting. So that fell into place. Renée that was much harder. I saw over a dozen major film actresses and did work sessions with them. I got on my feet and danced and sang with them. A lot of actresses said there had to be an offer on the table before they came in. But we created this blanket rule that if you wanted to be considered for this role you had to come in because how else would I know if you could do it. I met with Renee in LA to convince her to come in. Then she came to watch the choreography and I wasn't sure whether she was going to get up on her feet. I thought she was testing the water. Then we were the two last ones in the room and she grabbed me and said "Can you just show me that one last step you were working on?" After about three or four steps I knew she had style and dance line I guess from her days as a cheerleader and gymnast. She just picked it up very quickly. I have worked with a lot of actors who are new to musicals. Like Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming in CABARET. Kathy Bates in ANNIE that was her first musical. I like working with people who are new to musicals because I get to work the way I like from character. Renee sang for me and I said we have the cast. It was the Scarlett O'Hara search it took a while.
Had you worked out the choreography long before shooting started?
Yes, I had three months of preparation with my choreographic assistants and choreographic supervisor. I needed that kind of time. I had this incredible genius Bob Fosse living there with me and I had to figure how I was going to approach the material. The thing is that Fosse is a genius and a mentor, one of the greats of our time and I knew that I didn't want to do a bad version of his work. I didn't want to do watered-down Bob Fosse. I didn't want to bastardise his beautiful work. So I went about reconceptualising the piece so that it would lead me in a different direction. And I did that within each number to. With Reach For The Gun I created the idea of reporters as marionettes. Which was not done in stage. I did that with every number. On stage Cell Block Tango had the six women with each holding a set of portable jail bars as they moved around. So I had them doing the tango with their victims, which led me into a whole different dance vocabulary. I realised that when Bob did the movie of CABARET he didn't take the original beautiful choreography. He found his own way into it and I did a similar thing. But Bob's spirit is all over this. He wrote this musical with Fred Ebb. As I was working on this I hoped his spirit was in this work, but it's also my original work.
Movie musicals are back but why did it appear that they had died?
It is so funny that the return of musicals came through animated characters. Teapots can sing but we can't! In the late sixties and early seventies as film was becoming more realistic, the over-blown musicals that came out started to seem frivolous and silly. They also started moving away from what makes musicals beautiful, which is that the characters sing because they can't speak. When you see a beautiful musical and Gene Kelly starts to dance in the rain it's because he's just said goodnight to the woman he loves and he's happy; and it starts with a whistle and moves organically into dance and you are not even aware that it's happening. When it's bad it' not put together in a structure that makes sense, lots of smoke, mirrors, bells and whistles but no substance, no simplicity. It was that, and a lot of directors who had not done musicals people from the stage know the structure and rules of musicals who think it is just a frivolous medium. So it was a combination of all those things, with one big white elephant after the next that made everybody say musicals didn't work. There were exceptions along the way. CABARET in 1972 was a brilliant musical. But I think people got nervous about them, they are very expensive too. It' like what happened with Biblical epics and then GLADIATOR comes around. It is never about the genre, it' about the execution.
A theme in CHICAGO is how quickly one celebrity is exchanged for another, is that the curse of Hollywood right now?
I think it has always been that way. This play was written in the mid 1920s as a satire by a Chicago cub reporter who had experienced the idea of criminals becoming celebrities and yellow journalism. It's not that different now and that's what makes this material so timeless. We are still intrigued by fame at any cost, celebrities whether they may be criminals or not. It's odd but it is still with us today. Not that I'm proud of the fact that there is celebrity boxing and reality TV. It's like a car wreck, you can't not look. We are all fascinated by it even though it is the lowest common denominator amongst us all. I hope our movie says something about that too. I think it is rather sick and odd that at the end we are up there applauding these two killers who are up there dancing and singing because they killed their lovers. As entertaining as this is I think it means something.
Why did you choose CHICAGO?
There are not that many great, legendary musicals left to film. The fashion now is the opposite, movies become musicals: HAIRSPRAY, THE PRODUCERS, THE FULL MONTY, DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES. I have had this unbelievable journey - my first Broadway show was ZORBA with Anthony Quinn, I went on to be the dance captain of THE RINK, my first Broadway show as choreographer was KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, my directorial debut was when Sam Mendes and I co-directed CABARET. It's odd how I have had this affinity with the writers of Chicago. I saw Chicago when I was a teenager and loved it. It was ahead of its time, very cynical, very dark and very funny. But I loved it. In a funny way I consider it a classic. When I heard it was happening I raised my hand. I was actually going into Miramax for a meeting about RENT but I said before we begin the discussion would you mind if I tell you what I would do with the movie of CHICAGO. Boom! It happened.
What kind of movie will you do next?
What I'll probably do is take a break and then start reading. I probably won't do a musical next. Just because this took two and a half years to put together, it was like doing a movie and a Broadway show at the same time. I think I will do a dramatic pieced next, something different. I have been sent a few scripts but I haven't cracked them yet because I still feel like I'm giving birth.
Did you think DANCER IN THE DARK was groundbreaking?
Yes it was a wonderful piece, disturbing and hard to watch but very impressive. Any musical that gets out there and works is groundbreaking. There are certain musicals that helped me find our kind of story telling method. That was one and PENNIES FROM HEAVEN was another because they involved fantasy. Ours is different in many ways but the ingredients are there. A Fellini film VARIETY LIGHTS was also helpful for me. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO which was about a dreamer.
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