‘Chicago’ director Rob Marshall opens up about his big screen razzle-dazzler
Like the town it’s named after, the film Chicago boasts guts, glory and a gust of (show biz) wind that will bowl you over. It’s one of the best films to come out of Hollywood in the last decade and deserves every morsel of praise it’s getting. That said, get a ticket and indulge in the Chicago experience when it officially opens in Santa Cruz County next Friday, Feb. 7. In the meantime, check local listing for sneak previews this weekend.
What makes Chicago the show-stopping, pulse-pounding entertainment extravaganza that it is?
The clever way it’s executed. Years ago, when director Rob Marshall was fiddling with the concept, deciding how he would transform the popular stage musical into a big-screen opus, he decided to use one of the main protagonists in the play, the character of Roxie Hart, as his impetus. Hart is the vulnerable wannabe, the dreamer, the lady that gets canned for pumping bullets into her disrespectful lover in 1920s Chicago. Marshall thought that by staging the film’s elaborate musical numbers through the eyes of Roxie, the transition would have smooth written all over it. He was right. Audiences can relate to Hart’s dreamy disposition and thirst for attention in the film, and Renée Zelwegger’s magnificent portrayal of the crime diva is downright commanding. The story itself revolves around criminal shenanigans of several Chicago dames, specifically Hart and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the smooth lawyer (Richard Gere) that only helps with their court cases because it shines the spotlight brighter above him. Queen Latifah co-stars as prison maven “Mama” and fits right into the showiness of this bawdy event. Everything—and I mean everything—in the film sizzles. The sets, the costumes, the musical numbers—they’re both eye-catching and riveting. Zeta-Jones in the numbers “All That Jazz” and “He Had it Coming” is simply nuclear. GT’s rating: **** (our of four)
Having already nabbed Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Actor (Richard Gere) and Best Actress (Renée Zelwegger), Marshall’s directorial triumph is now primed for the celebrated Oscar ceremony held in March. But first, there’s a publicity blitz to deal with. Good Times recently caught up with Marshall. Here’s what he had to say about the film:
Good Times: What drives you to create?
Rob Marshall: Good question. Well I was exposed to theater and film as a kid and we were lucky to be able to go to big events. I just grew to love theater and film. It’s just that simple, and it became something I wanted to embrace. I wanted to be a part of it. I did musicals when I was 13 and 14— everything from “The King and I” to “The Sound of Music,” so I found my place and felt at home in this world. Later, I started dancing and I discovered that it was something that I had a natural talent for. But it’s hard to say why you do what you do. It’s been sort of a tradition for me to be in this business. I have never had a job outside of film and theater. I feel it’s where I belong.
GT: What do you love most about it?
RM: I love how art, film, theater … how it can lift you and take you to another place. I grew up with musicals. It was this wonderful world and the joy of it is that art is intrinsic to enjoying life. It brings beauty to people.
GT: The film recently nabbed some awards at the Golden Globes and it’s been the talk of the film industry. You must be getting a great deal of attention. So, how has life changed for you?
RM: I can’t quite digest it all. Everywhere I look I seem to be meeting legends, people in film. They come up to me and say, ‘Hello Rob!’ And I think they must know me. To give you a clue how it’s been … I recently got back-to-back calls—one was from Barbra Streisand; the next one was from Sean Connery. (Imitating Connery’s voice) ‘Hello Rob, this is Sean Connery.’ It’s sort of been like that. I keep asking myself, ‘Is this really happening?’ I’m sort of knocked out by it and I am trying to enjoy this wonderful ride I am on at the moment, and at the same time, I know it’s not quite reality. Not really.
GT: Why do you think people have embraced the film quite the way they have?
RM: It’s timely, even though it’s set in the ’20s. I think our fascination with celebrity, our perversion of that and how it feeds in the culture is another aspect. I think that the film also has a beautiful score, plus the fact that it’s the perfect musical and it’s been winning over audiences. Musicals are a true American art form. A lot of the stuff that is out there is all this reality TV stuff and it’s nice to escape from these things and have your spirits lifted. This is what musicals are for.
GT: What sort of things inspired you?
RM: So much. I was a fan of “Gypsy,” which was huge, with Angela Lansbury. Then there was “Funny Girl” and “Meet in St. Louis.” I’ll never forget going in to see “Oliver” and having assigned seats—and this was at the movie theater. It was a real event.
GT: Give me your feedback on the following people: Renée Zelwegger.
RM: She’s the consummate actor, a dear friend and brave in so many ways. There is no end to her talent. It’s sort of surreal how much she can do. Her range of talent is limitless.
GT: Richard Gere.
RM: He’s the nicest man in show business. He’s so funny, so stylish. He’s a really smart, generous soul. He was so excited to do a musical. I think it opened up a part of him that he hadn’t been able to explore.
GT: Catherine Zeta-Jones.
RM: Oh my Gosh … well, she’s such an exquisite talent. Her strength and beauty—my goodness. She has what Chita Rivera describes as star power. She has guts. She’s just got that inner glow.
GT: Rob Marshall—you.
RM: Lucky, fortunate to be working with brilliant material. I was aware when I put this together that I really wanted to serve the material as best as possible, so that it could reach people. I felt a certain sense of responsibility. I come from the theater and I see so many plays that do not translate well into film. I really think it’s all about the execution.
GT: What’s up next for you?
RM: Well, just finish this movie, really on Dec. 27, but I’ll be beginning to read things soon. Right now I am enjoying the ride of Chicago. I never expected that it would happen. We’ll be going to Berlin, Rome and Paris for film festivals there, and after working on it for two years, I’m just enjoying the fruits of the labor now.
GT: There was talk that you might take on the big-screen version of “RENT.”
RM: Actually, I think Spike Lee has been developing that. But I am sure, at some point, I’ll do another musical again.
GT: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself lately?
RM: Wow. What have I learned about myself lately? Hmm. I’ve learned that I have to learn to enjoy what is happening at the moment so as to not let it pass me by and feel as if I haven’t experienced it. I am just trying to breathe … breathe in this wonderful time.