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“I grew up on a very, very tiny country town,” with about 11 houses, a gas station and a farm, Luhrmann told the RTS London Convention 2022, the theme of which this year is “The Fight for Attention.” “At some time, we ran a small theater,” he added. “Just recently, it has become clear to me that even as a kid I was living with the currency of story and ideas.”
The Australian director, producer and writer (Elvis, The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, The Get Down) had an onstage conversation with TV presenter Edith Bowman, discussing the power of creativity. Elvis recently became Luhrmann’s highest-grossing film of all time in the U.K.
Asked how his storytelling has evolved, Luhrmann said he tries to “avoid self-analysis.” But “my diet was a diet of old, classic movies,” he said. “I started reaching into this sort of grab bag and understanding of theatrical cinema, which is a very old-school cinema, and I am trying to look at a way of doing it decoded for now in a new way.” That just “became my language,” he said. “The way I tell movies is kind of the way I am,” he shared, quipping that there are always similar characters in his films, such as a kind grandmother or a writer or Colonel Tom Parker.
Asked why he wanted to tell the story of Elvis Presley, Luhrmann said “it wasn’t fandom,” but he likes how William Shakespeare takes a historical figure and portrays them. “With Elvis, I wanted to explore kind of America in the ’50s and ’60s” and ’70s, the filmmaker said, adding “you couldn’t write” the dramatic arcs of Presley’s life and death.
Asked about Tom Hanks’ work playing Parker, Luhrmann said he needed a “great actor” to portray the big personality. “He is one of the great actors of all time,” not just of this age, the director said. “He wanted to run toward a role that was repugnant … because he is America’s dad,” he said.
Asked about Austin Butler, who plays Presley, the filmmaker said it is his “great joy” to help actors “play a different string” on their bow. Luhrmann described his meeting with Priscilla Presley as “lovely,” also recalling how she reacted to Butler’s portrayal full of emotion. “When he walked into my house … he was already down Elvis street a bit,” he said. Luhrmann said Butler was “devoted” to the role “24/7, seven days a week” with his drawl so convincing that the director thought the actor was from the South, only to find out Butler was from Anaheim. He also shared that he only heard Butler speak in his actual voice recently.
He even shared that Denzel Washington rang him and told him about Butler, “‘You are about to meet an actor whose work ethic is unlike any work ethic you will have ever seen.'”
Luhrmann also mentioned that “we had to make Austin Butler a star” before the movie opened, saying “thanks, TikTok” and GQ, “because he photographs very nicely.”
Asked about what he would like to see Tom Cruise do, Luhrmann stayed mum before saying: “I once saw him and someone he was married to” do a Tennessee Williams play.
The filmmaker will expand and reimagine his film Australia into Faraway Downs, a six-part series that will run on Hulu in the United States and Disney+ and Star+ internationally; it was unveiled this summer. The project will be assembled entirely from footage that Luhrmann shot for Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, with a new ending and updated soundtrack. It is slated to premiere in the winter. At the time of the film’s release, Luhrmann said he had filmed three endings.
“I originally set out to take the notion of the sweeping, Gone With the Wind-style epic and turn it on its head — a way of using romance and epic drama to shine a light on the roles of First Nations people and the painful scar in Australian history of the ‘Stolen Generations,'” said Luhrmann when the series was announced. “While Australia the film has its own life, there was another telling of this story; one with different layers, nuances and even alternative plot twists that an episodic format has allowed us to explore. Drawn from the same material, Faraway Downs is a new variation on Australia for audiences to discover.”
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