Planet Hollywood Online
31 May 2001
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PLANET Q&A: Baz Luhrmann's Bohemian Vision
Interview by Prairie Miller

Baz Luhrmann is definitely not a sequel kind of director. Determined never to make the same movie twice and defying most expectations about the way movies are made, Luhrmann is braced for reactions ranging from astonishment and perplexity to elation, over his time travel mix 'n match pop version of Moulin Rouge. The brash Aussie director who irreverently reinvented William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet on screen, described for his no-holds-barred musical vision for Moulin Rouge, and the rhymes and reasons behind his choice of Nicole Kidman as his designated Montmartre muse...

PH: Is Moulin Rouge for everyone, or would you say that it's a more acquired taste?

BAZ LUHRMANN: It might be too much for some, I admit, but I realized soon enough in movies, that your audience is everyone from children to the Queen of England so you've got to have layering that can span that. With Moulin Rouge, it does get more classical as it goes along, so hopefully the audience will surrender to what I've prepared for them, and just let it happen to them.

PH: Talk about the wild collage of music and classic movies you put together for Moulin Rouge...

BL: It's been an ambition of mine to find a cinematic language through which to tell a story through music. The can-can was a dance so violent that people were actually killed from doing it. And people are so passionate about music. Music touches us in a way in which words cannot describe, I believe that is the function of it. You know, it's there when words fail us.

I also apply a healthy sense of irony to the music. For example, if you're to look at Elton John's "Your Song," you understand that it is a great song, but it's also very cheesy, and could be played very easily in a piano bar. So I guess you could say that in Moulin Rouge, we celebrate the coolness in cheesiness.

There are actually hundreds of songs in the film, from Busby Berkeley to hip-hop. It has a simple plot, really. But Moulin Rouge can be understood on all those different levels, and it wildly changes gear, going from high comedy to high tragedy.

Moulin Rouge is the nightclub of your dreams, it was the greatest rave that ever was and I wanted Moulin Rouge to come across as shockingly operatic, high pop, and high camp. But the movie is not about like, 'Wouldn't it be groovy?' or 'Wouldn't it be fun?'

PH: How did you go about getting the rights to all that music?

BL: For the use of all those very highly controlled copyrights, we had to convince publishing companies to allow us to use them as part of a musical. I had to meet with Bowie, Bono and Elton. I had to sit with Dolly Parton, she was gorgeous. I had dialogue with people about what I was doing, and why it was important -- and most of those people want a musical to work.

At first she was like, 'In a musical? I don't think so!' And then I sent her the footage with that lyric, "Here we are now, entertain us." And she recognized that the song is being sung by guys in top hats and tails. You know, that it's this wild, out of control vision of the 1890s. So, the juxtaposition made it special enough for her to give us permission to use it.

PH: Why did you decide to film Moulin Rouge in Australia?

BL: I got offered a lot of money to come to L.A., but I named my price another way. I said, 'Build me a studio in Sydney. Let me work out of Australia, and get creative control of my films.'

PH: What made you go after Nicole and Ewan for your lovebirds of choice?

BL: Ewan, he's my secret weapon, and he turned out to be a big, wonderful surprise. He's an actor who can inform a love song in a way that you simply don't get. Ewan could even be the Frank Sinatra of this new period.

Nicole, she's a real gem, she embodies classic movie stardom. Nicole was so right when it came to finding someone for the role of Satine who could represent Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, you know, a Madonna-like fantasy for men, but who is also the girl next door. I also wanted to let that inner craziness of Nicole's get out. Her role shows her as audiences have never seen her before and if Nicole is now a single person and not part of that royal family, this defines her independence like no other film could.

And Nicole is funny, and kind of gangly and raucous. She's got a big, hacking laugh, and she's kind of tomboyish and playful, but she's also regal in a very classy way. She's got that spirit I think her parents gave her, to pick yourself up and try again. You know, that old fashioned, sort of hold-your-chin-high kind of thing.

PH: How worried were you about Nicole getting injured?

BL: Yes, we had some moments. Nicole is not without complications, but not surprisingly. If this was a circus high wire act, she walked the wire without a net. One thing for certain, Nicole Kidman's show will always go on.

Nicole's got guts. You know, getting out there and promoting herself and the movie at this time, is not the thing for her to do, but she has done it, and she's never complained.

PH: Do you feel audiences are ready for a movie musical?

BL: I'm confident. As a child I loved musicals. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. We had a gas station and a farm and we ran the cinema for a time, so I was very much used to old musicals.

The basic rule is that the audience has to have a relationship with what's going on. You just set up the deal with the audience, and follow through with them, but you've got trouble if you start thinking that there's only one way to do it.

There's something very personal about it for me. Moulin Rouge is where I am in my life right now. I'm showing triumph. You know, the search for hope and joy, and the loss of loved ones, while trying to measure and understand the depth of all of them.