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A flash of leg, the taste of gin, the smell of corruption, and things that go bump in the night.

A flash of leg, the taste of gin, the smell of corruption, and things that go bump in the night. Anywhere else it would be a crime, but this is Chicago.

Eileen Condon meets three of the stars - Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta Jones and Renée Zellweger - who reveal what a treat is was to be in the Cabaret-style blockbuster musical.

THEY make an unlikely allsinging, alldancing double act but Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere are about to prove they can really give it the old razzle dazzle.

Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere (180)

The pair dance and sing their hearts out for the new big screen musical Chicago and have wowed critics so much there's already talk of Oscar nominations.

But what makes the high-kicking performance all the more remarkable is the fact Zellweger has never sung or danced professionally before now.

'I have no background in musicals', says the Bridget Jones star. 'I was never going to open my mouth to sing in front of anybody besides my dog and in the shower and that was it,' she adds with a giggle.

What changed for the diminutive, blonde star was meeting director Rob Marshall whose dream it was to bring the smash hit stage show to the big screen.

'He came along and made it ok,' explains Zellweger. 'I put my faith completely in him, and suddenly I didn't care if I couldn't sing a note or if I fell down on my face or if I was going to be laughed at for the rest of my life. I didn't care. I was going to go and have the experience that Rob was about to create,' she says excitedly.

Unlike Zellweger - surprisingly to his many fans who see him as the brooding, Lothario characters he often plays in films such as American Gigolo and Primal Fear - Gere actually started out in musicals.

The 53-year old star, who plays sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago, made his name in the Broadway version of Grease and later brought the show to London. But despite his successful background, he was reluctant to go back to his hoofing roots.

'I was a little resistant about doing Chicago because I wasn't taken with stage production when I saw it,' he confesses. 'It was my agent pushing much more than me. He used to represent chorus girls and was totally into the whole musical thing, so it was his wet dream to have a client who was in a musical,' he laughingly explains.

'I figured I'd just done a very intense movie - Unfaithful - and I thought at the very least I was going to have fun doing Chicago for those four or five months and it was great fun.'

Although the two stars come from very different theatrical backgrounds, both admit to being big fans of the musical genre.

'My parents were 40s people and that was the era of the musicals, as a kid I grew up with my parents watching them and I noticed them too, so I guess almost all the musicals are in my head and my heart,' recalls Gere.

'I lived in a place where we didn't have access to the stage musicals.

Renee Zellweger (240)

'Chicago just didn't come through to Texas,' adds Zellweger. 'But I watched The Sound Of Music every year on TV and my father would play the soundtracks. I didn't know the music I was listening to actually came from Oklahoma! or Singin' in the Rain or whatever, but I loved it, in spite of not knowing it.'

Despite not knowing one musical from another, the 33-year old seems to have found her forté.

Yet her role as sexy, raucous, maneating Roxie Hart in the film is a million miles removed from tongue-tied singleton Bridget Jones in the Oscar nominated Bridget Jones's Diary.

Gone too are the pounds Zellweger piled on for that role - so much so she's been criticised lately for being too thin.

However, the star hasn't ruled out reprising her curvaceous look for a forthcoming Bridget Jones sequel

'If the script is really, really, really good and if we have the time to do it right, because I cherish that character and feel very protective of that experience,' she says.

It doesn't look like happening in the near future though as Zellweger's schedule is currently non-stop. As well as Chicago, she has three more movies due for release in the New Year - White Oleander, Down with Love alongside Ewan McGregor and Cold Mountain with Jude Law.

Things have been busy too for Gere, who recently married his long-time partner Carey Lowell and three years ago became a first-time dad when Carey gave birth to his son Homer.

Catherine Zeta Jones

But busiest of all is their co-star Catherine Zeta Jones who, as well as completely stealing the show in Chicago, is expecting baby number two by movie star husband Michael Douglas.

The Welsh-born actress, who is a one-time British tap dancing champion and started her career in the West End production of 42nd Street, has taken America by storm with her role as brassy showgirl Velma Kelly in Chicago.

Not least her co-stars who reckon the girl from the valleys is a knockout.

'I was so excited to be working with her. I was in awe,' says Zellweger breathlessly.

'No-one in America knew she could do this and here she comes ready or not, you know! I walked into the first day of rehearsal and Catherine was in the middle of doing All That Jazz and then she did a lift and I thought 'Wow! Here we go,' she adds with a beaming smile.

* Chicago opens at UK cinemas on Friday, January 17.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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