A few years ago, Daniel Day-Lewis, the son of a poet and the grandson of the founder of a British movie studio, left the movies behind to find poetry in the making of shoes in Florence, Italy. He was at the top of his game but felt he needed some time off. When he returned to the business, he won a third Academy Award nomination (for 2002s Gangs of New York) and followed it up with his second Oscar, for 2007s There Will Be Blood. It made sense, then, that he would be a good choice for the role of an Italian filmmaker who is concerned that he is burned out.
The movie Nine, which opens on December 25, is based on the Broadway musical of the same name. Both are set in 1965 and follow the plight of director Guido Contini as he tries to make a movie while dealing with the emotional baggage of a full life. In addition to Day-Lewis, the film stars Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Penlope Cruz, Sophia Loren, and Stacy Ferguson. In a New York City hotel room, Day-Lewis says that although he was apprehensive about taking on the part, he could relate to it.
The tone of the script was beautiful, but I had concerns that I could appreciate it from the outside without being drawn into the world he was describing. But anyone who does any kind of creative work at some time in their lives knows that as you grow into middle age, you come to a time where you question whether you have anything else to offer. You feel utterly bereft of whatever creative force it takes to do that work. I suppose I was interested in that dilemma for a man who is about to shoot a film but is living in a wasteland of his own making.
Although Day-Lewis was able to find a way into the character of Contini, the second part of the equation was more challenging. Guido daydreams that his life is a musical. And he sings. Day-Lewis had never sung in a movie before, and he told the films director, Rob Marshall, that he may have chosen the wrong man for the role.
I tried to convince him not to hire me because I thought he should use someone else, he says. I even gave him some names, but he said, I think you can sing. So I said, Lets put it to the test, and Paul Bogaev, our musical director, and I tried to stagger through the songs. Quite clearly, I was incapable of singing them, but Rob still managed to convince me that it would be okay. I took the job on blind trust but had severe doubts about it. I had no idea of what the work would be like. I was a choirboy at the local church when I was a schoolboy, but other than that, I hadnt done anything like that.