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THE DESIGN

John Myhre dresses a set to the 'Nine'

The production designer wanted the musical to look different from the movie '8 1/2' and the stage show.

November 01, 2009|Susan King

Production designer John Myhre won Oscars for his work on director Rob Marshall's 2002 period musical "Chicago" and his 2005 drama "Memoirs of a Geisha." He's also supplied the eye-popping looks for the 2006 musical "Dreamgirls" and last year's fantasy thriller "Wanted."

But for all that, perhaps his most creative project is his latest, the musical "Nine," opening Dec.18. Marshall directed this lavish adaptation of the Broadway musical hit, itself based on the 1963 Fellini film "8 1/2 ," about a movie director (Daniel Day-Lewis) exploring his relationship with the women in his life while trying to arrive at an idea for his new film.

"There are two worlds in the film," Myhre says. "There is the real world of Guido Contini, a film director in 1960s Rome, and this fantasy world where he sort of learns about himself through the women in his life. So there are two distinct looks."

Most of the fantasy sequences play out on a massive soundstage in Rome -- "The film opens with Guido coming into this soundstage and being completely dwarfed by this giant set that when you look at it is completely unfinished, so you would think if somebody put a little more thought into it, it would be magnificent."

Though based on the stage show and original film, "Nine" uses neither as a blueprint for its design. The set for the Broadway musical was Minimalist, and Myhre says he purposefully did not revisit the Fellini film, set in a ritzy spa, so as not to be influenced.

The look, he says, reflects Guido's jumbled thoughts. "He's the world's biggest director, and he's two weeks away from starting to shoot the biggest film of his career. He doesn't have the faintest idea of what it is about. And we use this mess of a set piece as the place he keeps coming back to for the fantasy sequences. It gets turned into all of these things in his imagination. So at one point, it is the Folies Bergere in Paris, at another point, it is sort of a swinging '60s disco, and another point it turns into the beach on the Mediterranean."

Most interiors were shot at Shepperton Studios in London. "But because the whole film takes place in and around Rome, we shot exteriors in Rome for a month. You have to be in Rome. There is no way of tricking it."

Myhre says that he and the rest of the creative team, including costume designer Colleen Atwood and cinematographer Dion Beebe, are so in sync with Marshall that they have developed a sort of shorthand. "We work together just seamlessly."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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