Though it is likely to be exhausting to imagine 20 years later, Chicago’s director recollects being shocked that his first characteristic movie would even get an awards-season marketing campaign, not to mention that it might break box-office data, turn into the primary musical in additional than 30 years to win greatest image, assist revitalize a moribund style — and all that jazz.
Chicago, based mostly on the 1975 musical of the identical title that itself tailored a 1926 play, boasted a star-studded ensemble solid that included Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu. Hitting theaters on Dec. 27, 2002, the Miramax movie informed the story of fame-crazed murderers Roxie Hart (Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) who search the help of flashy lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere) to maintain them away from the gallows — and within the papers.
On the time, Rob Marshall, who would go on to direct such movies as Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Into the Woods (2014) and Mary Poppins Returns (2018), had labored on a lot of stage productions however had but to helm a characteristic. He met with the Miramax crew about probably main Hire, which might ultimately hit theaters in 2005 below the path of Chris Columbus, however the studio’s property that Marshall actually needed a crack at was Chicago, which occurred to be his all-time favourite musical.
“I used to be blissfully naive in some ways, particularly of how it might do,” Marshall tells The truestarz. “At the moment, live-action musicals had been simply useless. Moulin Rouge! had performed the 12 months earlier than, and that helped open the door. However I used to be very a lot conscious that musicals simply weren’t being accepted. I believed it might be a small, area of interest movie that just a few folks would see.”
Because it turned out, various folks noticed it. The movie made $306 million worldwide ($507 million immediately) to turn into the highest-grossing live-action musical ever to that time. It additionally received six Oscars, together with greatest image and greatest supporting actress for Zeta-Jones, together with notching Golden Globe wins for Zellweger, Gere and the movie itself.
Throughout an interview celebrating the movie’s twentieth anniversary, Marshall discusses how his distinctive pitch helped him land the gig, the tough casting course of that noticed Kevin Spacey and Kevin Kline additionally within the operating, the studio’s shock upon seeing the completed product, why the movie felt significantly well timed amid the rise of actuality tv and the way his Chicago classes helped him in his strategy to helming his upcoming live-action model of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
What was the standing of the movie earlier than your involvement?
Miramax — earlier than it was The Weinstein Firm — was on the lookout for a younger director for the movie of Hire. I had simply carried out Annie for tv, which did very nicely. I additionally had a manufacturing of Cabaret operating on Broadway that I co-directed with Sam Mendes. So that they known as me in for a gathering to debate Hire, however I knew that the Chicago property was on the market and that they had been having an actual troublesome time determining how one can convey it to movie. Chicago was my favourite musical — I had directed it Los Angeles, however I additionally simply liked it rising up. I sat down to inform Meryl Poster, Harvey Weinstein’s proper hand: “Earlier than we begin speaking about Hire, can I let you know what I believe a solution to strategy Chicago could be? As a result of it hasn’t occurred but.” (Laughs.) I began explaining my ideas, conceptually, concerning the movie and the way I noticed it.
She grabbed me and introduced me into Harvey’s workplace. I then spent hours in his workplace describing how the movie may very well be carried out. It was this concept that there’d be two completely different worlds: the world of the vaudeville stage, the place the musical numbers occurred, after which the reasonable world of Chicago within the ’20s. At that time, it was uncommon to combine two completely different worlds on the similar time inside a movie. However I pointed to MTV movies at the moment (laughs), that you could possibly have many alternative layers occurring concurrently. I truly carried out “Mister Cellophane” for Harvey in his workplace, explaining that the character of Amos could be in Billy Flynn’s workplace, in an actual scene with him, decide up his hat, and when he places on his hat, he’d be on stage.
They’d talked to me early on about choreographing, so I had seen all of the scripts of Chicago. The largest drawback is, they had been attempting to show it right into a ebook musical — a musical the place folks sing. What they didn’t perceive is that Chicago’s an idea musical and was constructed that manner. All of the musical numbers within the stage play are all vaudeville turns. All of the numbers must be presentational numbers that occur on a stage. That’s what they’d by no means carried out. A pair days later, they gave me the movie to develop. (Laughs.) I introduced [screenwriter] Invoice Condon on it and John DeLuca, my artistic accomplice, and we began figuring out how one can create Chicago as a movie with this idea in thoughts.
So for the scripts that you simply learn, Invoice wasn’t concerned but earlier than you joined?
No. I had met with a bunch of various writers, and met with Invoice, and I simply felt like he was a kindred spirit and understood musicals so nicely. He’s additionally a director himself, so it was straightforward to speak to him about movie, and it was an exquisite collaboration. Collectively, we developed the concept that it might happen all by way of Roxie’s thoughts. All of it got here from Roxie, who desperately needed to be a star and make a mark. She noticed issues by way of vaudeville, and that’s how we entered into this.
It’s very tough doing musicals on movie as a result of it’s a way more reasonable medium. In a theater, once you watch a musical and somebody begins to sing, you’re in an unnaturalistic surroundings. Instantly, you’re already in a theater with wings (laughs), so you’ll be able to settle for plenty of issues. On movie, it’s very troublesome to search out your manner into musicals and somebody singing. It’s one thing I’ve labored exhausting, with all of the musicals I’ve carried out, to discover a manner into the singing that feels natural. It’s the trickiest factor about musicals.
The solid is so unbelievable. Was anybody hooked up but?
Nobody was hooked up. There had been speak [over the years] of Goldie Hawn or Madonna or Liza Minnelli or John Travolta. So then I began the method of assembly with those who I believed might do it. It was somewhat little bit of detective work as a result of I needed to discover out who had musicals of their background. Richard Gere had carried out Grease and performed Danny Zuko, so I knew he had musical expertise. Catherine Zeta-Jones was the simplest to solid as a result of she had very clear musical chops, having performed in West Finish musicals — even beginning as a toddler, she was in Annie after which was in Pajama Recreation.
Renée was precisely the actor I used to be on the lookout for as a result of I needed to discover a susceptible Roxie, somebody who might play the delicate a part of her, however then even be a ok actress to show the tables and turn into the robust killer that she turns into, and it wanted that full vary. I’d discovered that Renée had been a cheerleader at school, so I believed perhaps she might dance. She got here to New York, and John DeLuca and I labored together with her on dancing and will see instantly that she might transfer.
Singing was a special factor. She was very afraid to sing for me. We went to dinner, and I stated to her, “Are you aware any songs?” (Laughs.) And she or he began singing “Diamonds Are a Woman’s Greatest Pal” for me within the restaurant as a result of she was so shy about singing formally. I might inform instantly she might sing.
Had been there different contenders for key roles?
Sure. I keep in mind chatting with Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey — all of the Kevins (laughs) — about Billy Flynn. However it was very clear to me that Richard was the one. The reality is, lots of people had been reticent about doing a musical. It’s a really cynical musical, too, in some ways. It’s very exhausting for folks to see it as a movie. Kevin Spacey was desirous about going off to do his Bobby Darin movie [2004’s Beyond the Sea], and Kevin Kline wasn’t fairly certain about it. However I at all times imagine that in an ideal world, you don’t even must decide about actors. The actor themselves, in the event that they’re proper for the function, they declare it as theirs, and that’s what Richard Gere did.
Catherine was the primary particular person I instantly considered for Velma and met together with her, and she or he needed to do it and was thrilled about it. Renée jogged my memory a lot of a younger Shirley MacLaine — if this had been carried out within the ’60s or perhaps even the early ’70s, I believe that Shirley would have performed the function, or Goldie Hawn, who’s spectacular as nicely. However this was 2001, and it was Renée’s second, and I simply knew she was excellent for it.
What went into getting the choreography proper?
As a result of it was my first movie coming from theater, it was actually useful for me that the numbers had been stage numbers. The rhythm of the movie, which was so thrilling to find, was with the ability to lower in a short time between actuality and surreality on stage. I used to be so nervous about directing a characteristic movie for the primary time (laughs), that I used to be so crazily ready. Within the opening quantity, Roxie grabs the mattress posts together with her hand when she’s having intercourse with Fred Casely — Dominic West — after which we lower from that to Velma grabbing two man’s arms and being lifted up. These cuts had been all very designed. That was the engine of the movie.
Did you get many notes from the studio? Did anybody know they’d successful on their fingers?
A very good query. (Laughs.) It was the identical 12 months as Gangs of New York, and Harvey Weinstein was a producer on that, and whereas we had been filming Chicago, he was in Rome taking pictures Gangs of New York. So I used to be very fortunate as a result of we form of flew below the radar. We had a really small finances, so nobody was actually targeted on us. We had a really brief schedule. Harvey got here to the primary day of taking pictures after which the final day, and that was it. I didn’t have anyone round me, actually, and that was liberating and great.
I believe they had been pondering that Gangs of New York was the massive movie for them for the 12 months. I keep in mind once we confirmed it to everyone, I imagine Bob Weinstein turned to Harvey and stated, “This is your film this 12 months.” After I screened it for them, they didn’t ask for any modifications. We solely made some changes to the top of the movie, however that was it. My good buddy Sam Mendes gave me good recommendation. He stated, “Once you present it, present it carried out.” I went forward and did a sound combine that wasn’t even within the finances. To be seen, I needed it to really feel prefer it was completed, after which we didn’t contact the movie.
I keep in mind Harvey Weinstein saying to me, “We must always actually speak concerning the awards marketing campaign.” And I stated, “For what movie?” He stated, “Your movie.” (Laughs.) I stated, “Are you critical?” It didn’t even cross my thoughts that we might be an awards film, in one million years. All of it was such a journey. I keep in mind after we confirmed it as soon as in London, we had been going right into a press convention, and Richard Gere stated, “What we’re feeling proper right here from everyone — this isn’t regular, simply so you already know.” (Laughs.)
It’s unbelievable to attain a lot together with your first characteristic.
I’m nonetheless very happy with the truth that we had been capable of, in a manner, open the door for a lot of musicals to return following Chicago. The truth that it was embraced the best way it was — the truth that it received the Oscar for greatest image — was such a shock as nicely. There hadn’t been a musical that received the Oscar since Oliver! in 1968, and there hasn’t been a musical that’s received since. I simply really feel very lucky that I used to be capable of work on a bit that I liked as a lot as I did. However the most effective factor for me that occurred with Chicago is that it opened the door to an period of musicals on movie.
There’s nonetheless such a keenness for the movie, and scenes from it proceed to go viral on social media. What do you attribute that to?
The fabric itself is so good, beginning with Maurine Dallas Watkins’ authentic play: an excellent satire that performed within the ’20s and was a really modern-day parody of what was occurring within the newspapers and the way killers had been turning into celebrities. Then John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse created this superb piece that was forward of its time when it opened [in 1975], and was very darkish and cynical and a parody of that world. However it’s nonetheless so prevalent. What constitutes a celeb? Is a killer a celeb, and the place’s that line drawn? Once we began filming, actuality tv was simply beginning to actually blossom. It’s the absurdity of how we, as the general public, idolize folks.
Subsequent up is The Little Mermaid, which, like Chicago, has such historical past and a loyal fan base. Already from the trailer, we’ve seen a spread of reactions, to not point out trolls. Did Chicago make it easier to with approaching the brand new movie?
Sure. For me, it’s actually essential to grasp why the supply materials works, why it’s liked, why folks embrace it — and just be sure you honor that. On the similar time, you need to reimagine it for a live-action movie. You must maintain onto these particular issues, however on the similar time, know that it’s a special kind. You’re now in a live-action kind, so you need to do issues in a different way than you’d in an animated movie. The animated movie will at all times reside there, however that was 1989. This must seen by way of the lens of 2023. It’s an actual balancing act, however it’s crucial to me to respect the unique materials.
This interview was edited for size and readability.