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Australian director Baz Luhrmann chats Romeo + Juliet!, Strictly Ballroom and more…

A life lived in fear… is a life half lived. As maxims go, Baz Luhrmann couldn't have picked a more apt one to adorn either the ornate-looking crest for his production company, Bazmark, or the posters for his 1992 debut Strictly Ballroom.

“If you're living in fear, you're pretty much sleep-walking through life,” he says. “I used to think it was youthful blustering. But, as I get older, I actually really believe it.”

Now 48, the man behind four films that have arguably made him Australia's most successful director of all time is in reflective mood today. Partly it's because he's been revisiting two of this quartet - his dazzling 1996 adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and his 2001 musical mash-up Moulin Rouge! - to bring them to Blu-ray for the first time.

He says: “I'm old enough and distant enough now, to not just see them as troubling but much-loved children.

“They've grown up and got relationships with audiences that have nothing to do with me. I look at them and go, 'well, I see them as films'. And I've never been able to see them like that before.”

Romeo + Juliet!

Abundantly enthusiastic when it comes to his own work, the silver-haired Luhrmann has even dug into the Bazmark vaults to find some particularly intriguing never-before-seen extras - from Nicole Kidman's vocal screen test for Moulin Rouge! to the first recorded kiss (during a costume test) between Romeo + Juliet's Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.

“It's quite wonderful to see Leonardo so caring for Claire. It's just a very beautiful moment,” he says.

We're in New York, where Luhrmann has been living while he works on the Blu-ray transfers and ponders his next project. After the critical mauling handed out to his last film, the 2008 epic romance Australia, it's no surprise that his next definite work will see him return to Sydney in December to begin creating a stage version of one of his most beloved films, Strictly Ballroom.

Strictly Ballroom

Given the popularity of the UK celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing (itself inspired by Luhrmann's film), as well as the Australian version Dancing With The Stars, bringing his debut to the stage would seem like a no-brainer. However, he admits he's uncertain how he'll do it.

“Maybe its execution will be wildly simple,” he suggests. “I'm going in with a very open heart and mind as to how to represent it in a way in which it's familiar, but really pushing the boundaries in terms of musical theatre.”

In many ways, it will bring Luhrmann back full circle, given Strictly Ballroom began life in 1986 as a 20-minute play he created while studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney.

The Great Gatsby

The Strictly Ballroom show is not the only thing on the director's mind, though. He's about to announce the fifth film of his career - due to shoot next year. The smart money is on an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. “I go towards things that are challenging and scary for me,” he says.

Still, taking on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel seems an even bolder move than directing a movie with a title as grand as Australia. But, as he points out, he won't be doing it alone - he'll have the team at Bazmark.

“It's like a circus troupe, really. And there's always new collaborators that I get involved with. I love that adventure. I like people. And creative people, I like them even more,” he adds.

» Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! are released on Blu-ray on November 1 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

- James Mottram

Digital Mag

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