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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 14:00 GMT
Chicago director kicks up a storm
Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago
Chicago is a big screen version of the stage musical

Broadway choreographer Rob Marshall has joined the ranks of Hollywood's elite thanks to his directorial debut with Chicago - which is hotly tipped for Oscar success.

Rob Marshall is certainly not afraid of a challenge.

He had a mere 60 days and a relatively small budget of $45m to direct his first ever feature film - the movie of the musical Chicago.

"I just kept thinking 'don't screw up'", he said.

"This was my first movie and I wanted to make sure it looked like I knew what I was doing."

The project was a risky one from the start.

Rob Marshall
A lot of people thought we were crazy

Rob Marshall

Studio Miramax, the movie's stars Renče Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Gere and Marshall himself were all taking one huge leap into the unknown.

"We began production on the movie before Moulin Rouge opened and the ethos at the time was that musicals just didn't work," said Marshall.

"We knew we had a tight schedule, a tight budget and a very risky project.

"People wondered if it was going to work. A lot of people thought we were crazy."

The tight schedule meant that many of the scenes had to be shot in just a day, with the cast and crew working up to 15 hours a day.

"I was like the Energiser bunny - I just kept going and going," said Marshall.

"But I was so honoured to get this film that I was determined to get it right."

While unknown in Hollywood, Marshall had already earned his spurs on New York's Broadway.

Renče Zellweger and Richard Gere
We hand-picked them all - their performances were incredible

Rob Marshall on his cast

A career as a Broadway dancer was followed by stints choreographing musicals, all of which led to Marshall's directorial debut, on a version of Cabaret used in Sam Mendes' American Beauty.

"I have always loved musicals," said Marshall.

"In many ways they are far more challenging than drama because they are so difficult to make work.

"With a musical you really have to investigate character and story otherwise it can end up looking like a variety show."

Chicago, adapted by Bill Condon from the 1975 musical, tells the tale of jazz club singers Roxie (Zellweger) and Velma (Zeta Jones) who both commit murder as they aim for fame in a turbulent 1920s Chicago.

So what is the tale's enduring appeal?

For Marshall it is its timelessness.

"The story deals with celebrity and criminality and the fine line between the two.

"It deals with the lust for fame at any cost - something that was fascinating to explore."

Hand-picked

Marshall says it was "a joy" to work with Zellweger, Zeta Jones and Gere.

"We hand-picked them all and it wasn't easy to do.

"We couldn't look at the last musical movie because there wasn't one."

"Catherine had experience of working on the stage but Renče was a complete newcomer.

"Their performances were incredible."

They are performances that Marshall hopes will help Chicago sweep the board at both the Oscars and the Baftas.

"I can't believe the Baftas are going to be held at the Odeon in Leicester Square," said Marshall.

"I remember seeing the opening of Bednobs and Broomsticks there for my 11th birthday.

"If anyone had told me I'd be there 30 years down the line watching my own movie possibly winning a Bafta I would never have believed them."

See also:

31 Jan 03 | Entertainment
19 Dec 02 | Entertainment
16 Dec 02 | Entertainment
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