Fergie goes big in Nine

By in December 24, 2009 • Filed in: News and rumors

The hip-hop sensation loved acting as a child, and comes full circle in the year’s most anticipated movie musical

Fergie was having the kind of career that most people can only dream of when she decided she would do whatever it took to start all over again. A year ago, she was a pop and hip-hop diva and the lead singer of a group that was playing to sold-out houses. The Black Eyed Peas were planning another world tour when Fergie (real name Stacy Ferguson), a former child actor who left her acting career behind in her teens to join an all-girl rock group, decided to gain almost 20 pounds and audition for a part in a big-screen musical called Nine.

The role she won is that of a 1920s Italian prostitute named Saraghina. She sings just one song, but it’s a showstopper called “Be Italian”, and it required someone who could belt out a song. In a New York City hotel room, a Vancouver journalist voices surprise that she can really sing. She is unflustered and admits that the music she is best known for wasn’t a natural entry point to a filmed version of a Broadway musical.

“I knew I could sing that song,” Fergie says. “It was getting them [director Rob Marshall and the film’s producers] to believe it, which is why I did the work that was needed. I was the last person cast, and I knew the level of actors that had been cast in this movie. I knew it was a Rob Marshall movie. I had seen [Marshall’s film] Chicago and I knew the calibre of the talent that was there, but I have taken acting classes. I would have found it unfair for anyone to just take a role like this without putting in the work.  

“I knew that I had just one shot at the audition, so I gained 17 pounds. When I saw the film, I was happy because it was definitely a change from the way I normally see myself. I usually work out and I am a fitness person and I eat healthy foods. That is the way I like to live my life, but this kind of changed my perspective about how I look at a woman’s body.”

It is a daunting cast that Fergie sought to join, one that includes six Academy Award winners and Oscar nominee Kate Hudson. The film’s title is a play on Federico Fellini’s , and the movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini, an Italian filmmaker whose erratic behaviour both on- and off-set is catching up with him. His wife (Marion Cotillard) has found out about his mistress (Penélope Cruz) and people are starting to realize there is no script for his latest film. As he tries to focus on the present, he keeps slipping into memories of his past, including a memorable encounter with a prostitute (Fergie). The film opens on Friday (December 25) and also stars Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren.

Fergie grew up in a Los Angeles suburb dreaming of belting out show tunes. Her mother was a fan of musicals and took her to most of the bigger shows when they came to the city. She says that her life changed when she discovered Annie and its star, Andrea McArdle.

“My mother took me to see the classic revivals like West Side Story and Sweet Charity, but when I saw Annie it was over, because there were kids my age on the stage. She bought me the Andrea McArdle album from the original show and I would play it over and over. I would mimic her, and she had a very powerful voice. I was little but I wanted to sound as powerful as she did. It’s funny because when I made this movie, I felt like I had come full circle.”

Fergie started singing in grocery stores and performing for anyone who would watch her. At the age of eight, she told her mother that she wanted to perform on-stage. “I was one of those very lucky people who knew what she wanted to do at a very young age. I told my mother, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to be in the audience anymore.’ I wasn’t one bit shy. I just wanted to perform. I did a lot of child acting and I did commercials and I did the voices of Sally Brown and Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts cartoons. When I was nine, I was hired to do a series called Kids Incorporated . It was a Mickey Mouse Club kind of show where you sing and act. I did some very bad acting as a child.”

Six years later, the show was being phased out and she started to look for more work. She was 15 when one of the girls from the show contacted her and told her there was a girl group being formed and that the two of them should audition. They talked to another friend from the show, showed up together, and got the job. But she still had the acting bug. Whenever she had time, she would look at ways of getting back to her original ambition.

“I was in that [the band Wild Orchid] for 11 years,” she says. “But I wanted to act. When I had time, I would go on auditions for little roles, spot things here and there. Then when I was about 24, I had this boyfriend who was taking these acting classes from Arthur Mendoza, who took his approach directly from [famed acting coach] Stella Adler. I would go to the class and I would watch him do his thing and audit the class.

“It was just like when I was a little girl. I didn’t want to be in the audience anymore. I wanted to do it myself, and so I joined the beginner’s class and took it through to advanced classes. I took Shakespeare and speech courses without going on auditions. We would record for Wild Orchid and then I would go back to class. I did that for a year. I gained the tools and learned the process and did all the work you put into it. I enjoyed the process of doing the back story and asking the questions and finding the meaning and studying human behaviour. It was like therapy for me, but when the opportunity to do Nine came up, I knew what to do.”

And Fergie knows how to sing. She says it’s quite likely that a lot of people will be surprised by her performance in Nine, and she hopes to keep surprising people with her music. “There are a lot of things I haven’t shown to people,” she says. “I haven’t really shown my rock ’n’ roll side, for instance. But Slash is coming out with a record, and I have a couple of songs on there with him. I don’t want everything to happen all at once. It’s about evolving. It’s showing different colours at different times and not putting everything out on the table and saying, ‘Here it all is.’ There are songs that I do that are silly and I like to be silly, but then I like to be fiery and boisterous and robust.”

Although she wants to act more, Fergie knows that her day job is a big commitment. She says that when she’s tried to fit acting into her schedule, it hasn’t worked out well. “I am not going to overextend myself and commit to a tour during a role. If I am going to do something, I will do it 100 percent and give my all to that. When I was doing [the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino–directed film] Grindhouse, I was flying after shows to film all night and then flying back to do a show. It was hard. It was a small role, so I could handle it, but I don’t just want to ‘handle it’. I want to be great.”  [Source]

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