Award-Winning Director Speaks to Arts Students
“It’s so surreal to be walking in these halls again. Even though some things are new here, I feel like nothing has really changed,” said Allderdice alumnus Rob Marshall as he toured the building for the first time since he graduated in 1978.
Rob Marshall was inducted into the 3rd class of the Alumni Hall of Fame on Nov. 3 alongside other notable graduates like Curtis Martin and Sharon Epperson. He returned on Friday to tour the building, meet students and teachers, and speak to the students as part of the Alumni Video Speaker Series.
While visiting the classes, Marshall was impressed by Allderdice’s maintained commitment to the arts. Marshall took the time to talk to the students in Julie Farber’s jewelry class about their projects and congratulate band director Brian Lee and chorus director Rick Finkelstein on their devoted efforts to helping students in the music program.
“It’s such a shame to see so many schools cutting their programs due to lack of funding,” Marshall said. “I’m so glad to see that Allderdice is still supporting students in their interests, like jewelry and music and acting. It’s really wonderful to see all their creativity.”
After his walk down memory lane, Marshall sat down and candidly talked to students from the acting and music classes about how he achieved such success. His career started on Broadway in “A Chorus Line,” where he played the role of Al. He continued to perform on Broadway until he suffered from a herniated disc during his work on the musical “Cats.” Though this ultimately ended his career as a performer, it started him on his path towards a career in choreography and finally directing.
Marshall had always been interested in “being on the other side of the table,” in theater productions. After extensive work with regional theaters, his perseverance paid off when he received his first Broadway credit as choreographer for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” for which he earned a Best Choreography Tony Award Nomination in 1994.
His career didn’t progress to film until 2002, when he was asked to direct the movie-musical Chicago. The movie was a smashing success, earning thirteen Oscar Nominations and winning six, all of which Marshall claimed he did not expect. Since Chicago, Marshall has directed four other major films: “Annie” (TV, 1999), “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), “Nine” (2009), and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011). He is currently working on developing his newest film “The Thin Man” with noted actor Johnny Depp.
Marshall spoke of his triumphs in Hollywood, entertaining the students with his stories, full of vivid details and gossip. Eager to please his audience, he was more than happy to share secrets about students’ favorite celebrities.
After admitting that Johnny Depp is the favorite actor with whom he has worked, Marshall gushed about Depp’s impeccable manners with everyone on-set and his genuine, kind personality. He even shared Depp’s trade secret: to stay in the mood of a scene, the actor keeps an earbud in at all times so that his personal DJ can play him songs continually while shooting.
Marshall continued to explain that each actor has his/her own way of staying in character, depending on his or her training and background. He proceeded to describe how Renee Zellweger preferred not to rehearse to ensure her emotions were fresh and genuine in the takes for Chicago and how Gong Li stayed in character, crying for hours, hoping to keep the feel of a “Memoirs of a Geisha” scene through lunch breaks.
Marshall not only explained to students the Hollywood stars’ tricks of the trade, but also the technical side of filmmaking. Each major motion picture has a budget, and it’s his job as a director to determine how that money is to be spent. Each day of filming costs at least a million dollars, and hours of filming can be as short as 30 seconds in the final movie.
At the end of his talk, Marshall took questions from the students, addressing his fears and struggles as a director, his favorite moments from the past, and his future plans. Marshall responded to each honestly and enthusiastically. The talk closed with his response that his dream project is “to work with people I like, to just have the best experience possible while directing, and to explore other genres of film.”
Marshall even allowed students to continue to talk with him after school as well. His patience shone through as he signed autographs and kept answering the numerous questions the remaining students had with charismatic responses.
His final advice to the students of Allderdice? “Just do it. Take every opportunity you can. You can’t start at the top, so do everything you can to work your way up there.”