Australia: Baz Luhrmann, Hugh Jackman and Catherine Martin interview
Baz Luhrmann doesn’t do thing by halves. His latest film, Australia, is an epic, romantic, historical, action comedy drama starring the cream of Australian talent past and present including People magazine’s Sexiest Man of 2008, Hugh Jackman. We caught up with Baz, Hugh and Baz’s wife/production and costume designer, Catherine Martin – CM to her friends – to ask them all about it.
LOVEFiLM: Baz, where did you get the inspiration for this story and the style of the picture?
Baz Luhrmann: There’s two parts. There’s a childhood love of the genre, these sweeping epics where you can have broad comedy, romance, action, drama, all in one film. Those films that I came into contact with when I was very, very young made a great impression on me.
I spent many years trying to make Alexander the Great. It was a hugely emotionally involving journey that never happened. There was a competing project [Oliver Stone’s Alexander] and that was normal. But at that time CM and I had another project in mind and that was to have our children. So – after some rehearsal – woo! Two children. We were living in Paris and I remember asking this question, you know, “Who are they? Where are they from?” We meet kids in our profession who grow up a couple of years in Paris, a couple of years in LA, but having roots seemed to be a really important thing. That was the beginning of a journey that took us back to Australia.
So I combined this personal journey, with this love of the sweet and romantic epic. These films were invariably played out on a canvas of historical events and landscapes. So then of course what historical events and what landscapes? Pretty quickly it became clear that the bombing of Darwin was a good action sequence, plus it was not very well known, plus it was the same Japanese attack force that hit pearl harbour. But the Stolen Generation stopped me in my tracks. I mean, I knew about that, but the more I researched, I realised that this dark chapter in our country, this scar… that I was in a place where I could take something very serious and difficult and put it inside a great big entertainment.
LF: Hugh, is this the Australia that resonated with you? The Australia you knew growing up?
Hugh Jackman: That’s a really good question because there are parts of this movie that are playing on the stereotype of Australiana. There are elements that subvert it beautifully, but the Stolen Generation is something that in high school I never heard about. It seems inconceivable to me now and it was when I went to university and started hearing about it.
LF: CM, where did you go for your references in terms of style?
CM: Baz was very clear about the direction he wanted to go in, which was a big historical romance, so immediately I think we both had references that come from Saturday afternoons in front of black and white TV and I think they met with the kind of research that Baz asked every department to do.
My department, which is the visual department, does a lot of looking through pictures and answering a lot of questions about what a house might look like in that particular region in that period, or what kind of hat The Drover would have been wearing. So we’re all sailors on Baz’s ship, and we’re all helping, sometimes to row, sometimes to bail out the water…
BL: And sometimes to walk the plank!
LF: Hugh, let’s deal with the sexiest man in the world thing…
HJ: Yes mate.
LF: What did your wife say?
HJ: The very fist thing Debs said was, “I knew it. I knew I’d married the sexiest man alive.” [Laughs.] The second thing was a quite genuine asking of the process, “How it is chosen? Is it readers? Is it votes? Is it the editors?” I said, “I think it’s the editors. There’s a big tank of people and they get together and they throw out photos, work out whose publicist they’re on good terms with and things like that.” So she said, “So anyone can get it?” and I said “Yes.” And she said, “And Brad Pitt didn’t get it?”
HJ: I’m not sure if any of them are tales we can tell, but yeah, they’re both practical jokers to the core. And we were also filming on location where 300 tents were lined out and as the sun went down, the only thing that was in the building – the one building we had – was a bar and a pool table, so it’s kind of miraculous we got consecutive days in really!
BL: It would be like the equivalent of being in the days of Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole. Bryan Brown was an absolute icon and Jack, he had two wives who were sisters, and given that’s illegal in our country; it was a hell of an achievement! He was an absolute sex pot. He did the first ever nude centrefold for Cleo magazine, so he was like the Brad Pitt of our time.
To think that one day I would do a film with Bryan and Jack, a little Aboriginal boy, the current Australian actors reigning the globe: Hugh and Nicole Kidman - and David Gulpilil, right? Remember Walkabout? If you don’t know anything about David Gulpilil, let me give you an idea about him. He’s been in almost every Australian movie. Because he goes off to the bush every now and then he’s like, “That bloke, I played didgeridoo with him in Central Park… Jimi Hendrix. Is he still around?”
HJ: The whole thing felt like an absolute privilege from start to finish.
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