Moulin Rouge 20th anniversary: Baz Luhrmann reveals Heath Ledger almost won role of Christian


Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman were magnetic in Moulin Rouge. But another high-profile actor almost nabbed the role ahead of him.

It’s been almost 20 years since Moulin Rouge first premiered.

The cult romantic musical film, written and directed by Australian movie-making legend Baz Luhrmann, was an unlikely commercial and critical triumph of the era.

It ended a decade-long drought of musical films not being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2002, and secured seven other nominations (it won two).

One of those honours was a Best Actress nod for a then 33-year-old Nicole Kidman, who played Moulin Rouge muse Satine.

And as much as we savoured the colour, lights and costumes, audiences were perhaps most enchanted by Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine’s against-all-odds love story.

Luhrmann knew before their first auditions – or “workshops” as he prefers to call them – that the pair would be a dream match in the movie, which streams on Disney+.

RELATED: Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban seen singing at Moulin Rouge! musical

But before it got to that point, the Romeo+ Juliet director was almost sold on late Australian actor, Heath Ledger, who was 21 at the time.

“There’s some stories to tell here … A young Heath Ledger was up for the role and I thought maybe the character could be very young,” Luhrmann told

“And it turned out they (Ledger and Kidman) did really work together. And it was quite beautiful.

“But Heath was just too young in the end.”

RELATED: Ronan Keating says he missed out on Moulin Rouge role

When that didn’t work out, Luhrmann knew he needed to get McGregor, who was 30 at the time, and Kidman on-board as his two leads.

At the time, the pair were performing in stage shows in London and New York, respectively.

“I went and saw Ewan and worked with him vocally, and I went and saw Nicole and I worked with her vocally, and I put them together in my head,” Luhrmann said.

“The real moment was when they met in Sydney and we did the first day of rehearsals. I’ve got a video of them doing scenes in Iona (Luhrmann’s Darlinghurst home).

“They were walking around, going into the elephant, and they were hysterical and wonderfully matched. They were great. He (McGregor) was just the perfect partner for Nicole.

“Getting the right chemical equation between two leads in a romantic relationship is really important. You can’t fix that if you get it wrong.”

RELATED: Moulin Rouge stars spill secrets from the film

Luhrmann, who is currently helping with Moulin Rouge! The Musicalahead of its Melbourne debut in August, said he also witnessed the aforementioned hypnotic chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, who starred in his 2013 Oscar-winning film The Great Gatsby.

“It’s one of the first things you see straight away. It happened with Carey and Leonardo,” he said.

RELATED: Baz Luhrmann says The Great Gatsby is an Australian film

“I put everyone through their paces, I don’t make exceptions for anyone. It’s not that I want to test them but I want to test myself. I’m learning about the character by working with them.

“But Leo and I had seen a lot of people and worked with a lot of people, but the particular quality we needed was present the moment they (DiCaprio and Mulligan) got together.

“I’ve actually got pictures from the moment they’re together and it’s the same throughout the film.”

Read our full interview with Baz Luhrmann on Sunday


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