Rob Marshall: The Diva Whisperer

Rob Marshall: The Diva Whisperer

Rob Marshall has a way with beautiful women. A six-time Tony nominee who earned an Oscar nod for directing the merry murderesses of Best Picture winner Chicago, the 49-year-old director-choreographer now razzle-dazzles with the big-screen adaptation of the Fellini-inspired stage musical Nine. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido, a caddish Italian filmmaker Marshall describes as “very heterosexual, almost to a fault,” Nine also celebrates the feminine charms of Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren. Sitting beside his canine companion, Gillie, on a sofa at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Marshall chats about his comely coterie; his partner, John; and his contempt for closeted performers.

Advocate.com: Three of the films getting the most Oscar buzz this season — Precious, A Single Man, and Nine — are all directed by gay men. What does that mean to you?
Rob Marshall: Gosh, I never even put that together, so thank you for pointing that out. But now that you’ve brought it up, I guess my response is that of course they are! Some of the greatest artists in the world are or were openly gay — or at least gay, whether they were open or not — and some of my greatest idols were gay: Michael Bennett, George Cukor, Vincente Minnelli, in his way. Those are my heroes.

Lee Daniels has spoken in interviews about how his gay sensibility is visible in Precious and his other films. Do you see your own gay sensibility as something that directly translates to the screen?
I’m so proud to be who I am, but I don’t really think in those terms. Honestly, I wish I thought more about that kind of thing. Obviously I grew up loving musicals, and only later in life did I find out that might’ve had something to do with my sexual makeup — whether it has to do with the escapism of it, the beauty of it, or the joy of it. I see my sensibility as something that comes from my taste. I remember Anthony Minghella, who wrote the Nine screenplay, once said to me, “As a director, all you can really bring is your taste.”

A recent post on Screenjunkies.com reads, “If you’re a homophobic straight guy, you might want to shut the eff up right now, because Rob Marshall's man-lovin’ ass is about to make it rain hetero-boner pills with his new movie.” Based on that bit of poetry, is it at least safe to say that straight audiences and gay audiences might get wildly different things out of the Nine experience?
To me, female beauty is universal. This movie is filled with some of the most beautiful women in the world, so of course I wanted to take advantage of that, starting with Sophia Loren, the greatest beauty of all time. One of the joys about doing this film was that all seven women are completely, vastly different from each other. I was thrilled to find and celebrate each woman’s outer beauty and inner beauty.

But you weren’t just working with beautiful actresses; you were dealing with huge movie stars. How did you handle the egos, the entourages, the publicists, and the other general dramas that accompany major fame?
I never felt any of that. I loved this company because they all walked into this knowing they had to go to work, so that whole other world didn’t even enter into my world. Daniel sets the tone for that too, because he’s so focused on serving the piece. The paparazzi were all over the place with Nicole Kidman when we were shooting in London, but I saw none of that. She would just come in wearing her sweat pants, ready to work.

I imagine it’s easy to become emotionally attached to your leading ladies. What’s it like to wrap a film and then watch them terrorized by tabloids while you live under the radar? Fergie’s had it especially rough these past few weeks.
I don’t envy them. I know they have to deal with it daily, but I hope that they ignore it all. I hope that they understand that it shouldn’t be such a part of their real life. That’s a difficult life to lead, so I do feel for them.

Coming from the more gay-inclusive theater world, what has been your personal experience with the Hollywood closet?
I haven’t had that experience with any of the actors or actresses I’ve worked with, and I think that would actually be difficult for me if I ever did. If you’re hiding your life, how can you really do the best work you can do? I only work — and this is very important to me — with people who I feel are truthful, honest, and real. I’m so proud of my friend Neil Patrick Harris and the other people brave enough to say, “This is who I am.”

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