In 2003, Chicago was nominated for thirteen Oscars. It won six, including Best Picture. Pretty impressive considering it was led by a theater director with no prior film directing experience. Rob Marshall had a theater background - first a performer, than a choreographer, finally a director making it all the way to Broadway. His Great White Way run of Cabaret and his Emmy award-winning TV direction of Annie impressed Harvey Weinstein and producer Martin Richards enough to make the hire, six months before their option on the material would expire. After the production wrapped, the Post Gazette interviewed Marshall to discuss this tremendous undertaking which ultimately lead to the film dominating the Oscars.
We did six weeks of rehearsal. No one heard of such a thing on a movie. In the middle, we did a reading, rehearsing three days just for the reading, and it was killer: music cues, underscoring. The cast couldn't believe it, but it paid off later. You become a company together. Musicals are infectious.
Catherine was first. I was shocked how down to earth she is. She's a gypsy [theater praise for a working ensemble dancer] -- she came to life in that rehearsal room. And what a singer! People are going to be so surprised.
Richard was expressing something he hadn't done since his stage work in Grease and those early rock musicals. He's a real musician: He sings and plays his trumpet and guitar every day. On the last day, he told the whole company: "I've never had a better time on a film, ever."
Velma's a big, meaty role, but it's Roxie's journey, her story. For Roxie, I saw 10 or more women -- Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Charlize Theron, Christina Applegate, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Toni Collette, who was fabulous, and that gorgeous Milla Jovovich. I saw some beautiful women, exploring who could do it. Then I met with Renee in L.A. I had heard it had come down to her, Catherine and Nicole Kidman for Moulin Rouge. Renee and I found we have very similar taste. She really loved my idea, so I got her to come to New York and she danced and sang a little for me. I needed an actress with vulnerability. The criticism of Chicago is it has no heart. It is cynical, but you have to feel how you get swept up in the insanity. The only true innocents are Amos and Hunyak. Everyone's on the make. But I couldn't have a real tough cookie as Roxie.
Zellweger had plenty of complimentary things to say about her director too.
The most important thing is that life is short. It's great to do work that you like, but it's important to enrich your life by bringing people into it who inspire you -- not just artistically, but spiritually. I decided, "Yeah, I could spend six months with this guy!" Rob has to tech, rehearse the background dancers, rehearse the film side, choreograph... he dances it for them, he performs it, then he directs it. We actors just come when he needs us. I don't know about Broadway, but on a film, it all starts with the director and has a trickle-down effect. He's dreamy. If his next picture's going to be shot in the alley behind my old apartment, I'll bring the soup and do costumes."
Watch Zellweger and Zeta-Jones in this scene where Velma pitches Roxie in hopes to share the spotlight.
Chicago certainly launched Rob Marshall's film career but the triple threat stage and film autuer chose his next projects carefully. Since his film directorial debut, Marshall has only directed four films. His next big Broadway to film adaptation Into the Woods hits theaters on Christmas Day, twelve years after Chicago's premiere. The film stars Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep. Will this be another big Oscar contender?
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