Daniel Day-Lewis: From oilman to director

Oscar winner shows his singing chops in 'Nine'

Nine” director Rob Marshall describes the impact of two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis’ opening number, “Guido’s Song,” as akin to the famous selling point MGM used to herald a silent movie icon’s first sound picture.

“It’s like ‘Garbo Talks!'” says Marshall. “This is ‘Daniel Day-Lewis Sings!’ To see him attack it with such fearlessness, I’m so proud. He can really sing. I always find that people with great talent have more talent than they know, or we know.”

Day-Lewis plays Italian filmmaker Guido Contini — a creatively blocked director in a crisis surrounding his art and his women — in the film adaptation of the Broadway show, a musical version of Federico Fellini’s self-referential classic “8½.” Although Day-Lewis is known primarily for intensely rendered screen portrayals (“There Will Be Blood,” “My Left Foot”), Marshall says, “what people will be excited to see is Daniel’s lighter side. He’s funny, charming, and he does laugh.”

“Daniel is totally absorbing to work with,” says Judi Dench, who plays Guido’s costume designer. Once Gertrude to Day-Lewis’ Hamlet on the London stage, she says working with him again felt no different.

“We didn’t have to invent a past, because it was there already,” she says.

Of course, Day-Lewis’ customary immersion came into play as well.

“He likes to live the part because it helps him when ‘action’ is called,” says Marshall, who at the actor’s request had a ’60s-era film director’s office built for his dressing room. “Environment is very important to him. So we gave him those tools, and he just gives it back to you in spades.”

Day-Lewis became a shadow director of sorts, observing every aspect of “Nine” alongside Marshall, including rehearsals for sequences that would have sprung from Guido’s imagination, even if the actor didn’t appear in them.

“He wanted to see how we staged these numbers that lived inside his head,” Marshall says. “I felt like I had a great partner.”

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