First there was “8½,” one of the most acclaimed navel-gazing films of all time. Featuring Marcello Mastroianni as an Italian film director suffering from creative challenges, Fellini’s masterpiece featured a who’s-who of fascinating women fighting for space in moviemaker Guido’s blocked brain.
Then there was “Nine,” the stage musical created by composer Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, in which the only gents in the show were the director and his younger self. The rest: a who’s-who of fascinating women.
Now there’s “Nine,” Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of the musical, in which a who’s-who … well, you get it by now.
But if you think you’re going to see carbon copies of Fellini’s women — or of their stage counterparts — then you don’t know Rob Marshall.
“As Rob always does,” says casting director Francine Maisler, “the roles have been reimagined and tailored specifically for the strengths of the actors.”
Let’s compare anyway.
The character: Luisa, the wife
Played by: Marion Cotillard
Notable predecessors: Anouk Aimee, Karen Akers, Mary Stuart Masterson
Analysis: Cotillard has big shoes (and short hair) to fill in Aimee’s Luisa. Initially seeming too aloof to suffer Guido’s indiscretions, Aimee’s Luisa remains all the more compelling because she sticks around. Cotillard, judging from past films, seems more ready to seduce than to settle. Despite the fact that her “La Vie en rose” singing voice was dubbed by Jil Aigrot, Cotillard aquits herself well with her musical numbers in the pic.
As for the original Broadway company, no one short of Nicole Kidman could be as icy as Akers. On the flip side, Masterson, who proved a surprising hit in the Broadway revival, has built a career on girl-next-door accessibility.
The character: Carla, the mistress
Played by: Penelope Cruz
Notable predecessors: Sandra Milo, Anita Morris, Jane Krakowski
Analysis: Cruz certainly has the fire to make a tempting alternative to Cotillard, as her Oscar-winning perf in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” proved. But it’s certainly a different kind of fire than the giggling/pouting Carla of Milo, who, while perhaps a pleasure in private, causes cringe-making in public. On Broadway, Morris raised eyebrows with her over-the-top acrobatic writhing, while in the revival, Krakowski added a touching touch to the cootchie-cootchie-ing “other woman.”
The character: Claudia, the mystical lady
Played by: Nicole Kidman
Notable predecessor: Claudia Cardinale
Analysis: Not particularly well-known at the time of “8½’s” release, Cardinale could personify the ideal woman and also convincingly play the tabula rasa movie star. Never showing much of an interest in crossing over into Hollywood films (OK, there was “The Pink Panther”), Cardinale nailed the world-on-a-string gorgeousness of the enigmatic Claudia. Her contemporary counterpart, Kidman, comes across icy and fascinating or icy and distancing, depending on script and director. But she brings more baggage to “Nine” than Cardinale did to “8½.” Still, she can play fabulous movie star, and has indeed played muse, to no less than Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel.
The character: Guido’s Mother
Played by: Sophia Loren
Notable predecessor: Giuditta Rissone
Analysis: More important to the musical than to Fellini’s film (in which she had little screen time beyond an uncomfortable Oedipal moment), Guido’s Momma will likely get even more attention thanks to Loren, one of the few cast members who was even out of diapers when “8½” was released in 1963. The legendary Italian actress no longer needs much in a role to come across as iconic.
The character: Saraghina, the prostitute
Played by: Stacy Ferguson, better known worldwide as Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas
Notable predecessor: Eddra Gale
Analysis: Gale was an opera singer snagged by Fellini for the role as the grotesque rumba-on-demand beachcomber. Ferguson comes from a decidedly different musical world and isn’t likely to induce the kind of train-wreck fascination that made Gale so memorable. But with little beyond musicvideos and concert footage, Ferguson’s in a strong position to make the biggest impression in the cast.