Double Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis tells Dave Calhoun how director Rob Marshall got him to sing and dance for the blockbuster musical Nine
Time Out Bahrain staff
I’m impressed Rob Marshall would offer you a musical. He probably knew that I’d come up with every excuse I could not to do it – including giving him a list of names of actors that I thought would be far better than me!
How did he persuade you? The truth is that Rob could charm the birds out of the trees. It was a lost cause trying to put up a struggle. He managed to convince all of us that over a period of time he could turn a squeak into a roar. I don’t know how he did that. I told him straight out I couldn’t sing. He said: ‘You can.’ I said: ‘No I can’t.’ At that point, we got someone in to play the piano and I tried to stagger through one of the songs. And I said: ‘See, I can’t sing.’ And he said: ‘No, you can.’ Because he knew we’d be working for eight weeks of rehearsal and he was convinced. I took it on trust, really.
There’s a very moving scene when you dance with Italian acting legend Sophia Loren, who plays the ghost of your character’s mother. Oh, I enjoyed that! My own mum passed away last year and I’m sorry she didn’t get to see this film, but she was so tickled at the idea of Sophia playing my mum. She was delighted. She wouldn’t have approved of all the people who have been my mum over the years! But that one scored a real hit.
Nine is partly about filmmaking, which is something you haven’t explored before. As an idea, it would put me off, actually. It seems too inward-looking. Yet, having seen 8 1/2, we know it’s possible to do it. And Truffaut’s great film Day For Night. There have been a number of great exceptions. Generally the rule would be: don’t do work about the work.
The life of your character, Guido Contini, is a mess partly because the public and the private are chaotically intertwined. Do you fight to keep the two separate yourself? There was a time when I knew that I had to. But once the work is put in, it’s a question of just maintaining the boundaries a little bit. It’s not always easy. And it gets hard for a period of time when the whole scrutiny of a film release invades one’s life. But for the most part, because of where we live, in Ireland, it’s made a lot easier. I’ve been very lucky. I just knew at an early time in my life how important privacy was. Not just for me and my family, but also to be able to do the work itself. To re-engage with the world and then come back to the work. It’s only of any use to you if you manage to exist properly day to day within an ordinary society. If you become a rarefied creature, and this whole silly machine is constantly forcing you little by little to become one of those gated creatures – God forbid! – then it would be so hard to have anything to offer. Never mind the loss to your own way of life.
Your co-stars are impressive, especially Penélope Cruz, who gives it her all for one exceptionally raunchy number. Did they let you watch the rude stuff or did they make you leave the room? Well, here’s the thing. I had an access-all-areas pass. That was the beauty of playing the director! Obviously with their permission. But I sat in on all the rehearsals. That’s how I spent a lot of my time all day, at the rehearsals with the girls, watching them develop through incredibly hard work, bit by bit, towards what you finally see.
There’s definitely a bit of Daniel Day-Lewis in your character, Guido. He keeps worrying that talking about a film will kill it. Yes, “talk will kill your film”. That really could have been me talking. I recognised that. That was something that drew me closer to Guido.
You are often asked to explain your ‘method’. How did you prepare for this, away from formal rehearsals, on your own? Ha ha – you will never know! Nine is on general release in Bahrain.