13 June 2001
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Born Toulouse

EW.com answers your ''Moulin Rouge'' burning questions The dish on Nicole Kidman's bone-breaking costume, the power of absinthe, and Toulouse-Lautrec's secret asset by Liane Bonin

A wrath-filled divorce hasn't been the only challenge facing Nicole Kidman this year. Filming the fin de siècle musical ''Moulin Rouge'' was no walk (or cancan) in the park for the ''Eyes Wide Shut'' star, or for her costars Ewan McGregor (''Trainspotting'') and John Leguizamo (''Summer of Sam''). The eight-month shoot resulted in an ER-full of injuries, including a broken rib, torn cartilage, and prostheses burn.

With the stars' help, EW.com answers your burning questions about absinthe, turn-of-the-century underwear, and what painter Toulouse-Lautrec had in common with his easel.

What was the deal with Kidman getting hurt while filming?
Turns out all that singing and dancing isn't as easy as it looks. ''I'm embarrassed by my injuries. They make me out to be such a wimp,'' Kidman, 33, admits. ''I broke my rib in rehearsal. Ewan is very proud to say he broke it, because we were doing a dance sequence where I'm supposed to jump in his arms, and neither of us is a trained dancer, so it was just the way he caught me.'' Kidman stayed injury-free for the next six months, but during the final weeks of filming, she wiped out again. ''We had three days to shoot the first dance scene in the film, so we were working 17 hours a day,'' she recalls. ''At about 1:00 a.m., we were all really tired and we had to get the shot, and I said, 'Yeah, let's do one more take.' I was in these huge heels and fell down the stairs and tore the cartilage behind my knee cap.'' The tear was serious enough to force the actress to drop out of her next film, ''The Panic Room.'' ''I reinjured myself, and they fired me because I just wasn't physically capable of making the movie,'' she says. (Jodie Foster replaced her as the movie's heroine.) Talk about adding insult to... you know.

So how did Kidman squeeze into a tight-laced corset with a broken rib?
Not very well. ''They put me in a corset a little too soon and rebroke my rib,'' she says. Even so, she was able to tough it out for the rest of the shoot, since the break wasn't severe.

Some scenes depict characters' absinthe-induced hallucinations. How much of a kick does that stuff have?
A yellowish green liquor made from wormwood and licorice, absinthe was a hallucinogenic hit at the turn of the last century, until people realized the nasty-tasting stuff also causes convulsions, mental deterioration, and psychosis. But that didn't stop Leguizamo from doing a little research in Australia, where the beverage is legal. ''It was disgusting, man, all four shots,'' says the actor. ''I think it's the fifth shot that makes you hallucinate, but I didn't go that far. It was like drinking turpentine. You feel it burning down your throat, and you can't even talk.'' And you thought a tequila hangover was rough.

Wasn't there another movie called ''Moulin Rouge''?
Actually, there have been a few. But this is not a remake. The 1952 ''Moulin Rouge,'' directed by John Huston and starring Jose Ferrer (1950's ''Cyrano de Bergerac''), earned seven Oscar nominations, winning two for art direction and costume design. But that was a biopic of Postimpressionist artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. (One of his most famous works is a poster advertising the Paris nightclub called the Moulin Rouge, or ''Red Mill.'') Ferrer's performance was Oscar nominated, but that didn't intimidate Leguizamo, who plays the painter this time around. ''How beautiful and sumptuous that [movie] was, but how stiff Ferrer was! He didn't do the lisp or show his buoyancy,'' the actor gripes. ''Ferrer's performance was very aristocratic, but I guess you couldn't play it any other way and get nominated for an Oscar.'' Ouch.

So the real Toulouse-Lautrec was actually a lisping, sex-obsessed short guy?
And how. ''We did a lot of research, and Toulouse did in fact have fat lips,'' says the movie's director, Baz Luhrmann. ''He did talk with a lisp. He was in fact one of the funniest men alive. He did die of alcoholism and was dying of syphilis. All of those factors are technically true.'' Toulouse-Lautrec even had a crush on a redheaded courtesan, and lived vicariously through her boyfriend.

Besides his artistic talent, did the man have any enviable qualities?
Yes, but the movie can't show you. ''Toulouse-Lautrec had a large penis,'' says Leguizamo. ''The prostitutes called him The Tripod because he was 4'11'' and had a very large appendage. It made me think God is truly merciful. His legs hurt, he's hobbled with a cane, he has a thick, cartilage-like tongue, but God said, 'I'll give you a large penis as a reward for all your suffering.''' Funny, we never heard that story in Sunday school.

How'd they make Leguizamo appear so short?
Leguizamo was fitted with amputee prostheses with movable ankles and feet. His real feet and lower legs were erased with computer special effects, but his fake legs created a lot more trouble. ''Each one was 45 pounds, and it took 10 minutes each to get them off and on. It was mad masochism, because I had to learn how to balance and kick the little feet forward when I walked. But it helped me feel like him. He wanted so badly to be a part of everything, and here I was, while everyone was running around and having fun, going, hey, fellas, I'm over here, anyone want to pick me up and put me in the scene? Hello?''