Baz Luhrmann

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Moviehole’s reporter Hugh Humphreys was lucky enough to spend some time on the set of “The Great Gatsby” while it was filming at Fox Studios in Sydney at the end of 2011, and now with the film just a couple of weeks away from release, he’s finally allowed to tell everyone what was going on!

Here we interviewed the film’s director Baz Luhrmann – shortly before filming an enormous party scene set in the Gatsby mansion.

MH: What have you enjoyed the most about working with such a cast as this?

BAZ: Well, they really give, and the more we work, the more generous they become. Leonardo, Tobey, Carey – we all collaborate. It’s not just a sense of “how many scenes have I got”, in the end it’s the material that has captivated everyone. It’s a universal truth, and what’s so fantastic about the book is it’s filled with so many observations of the world.
It’s about this orgy of money and booze and all of a sudden – women have gone from wearing clothes down to their ankles to wearing underwear as clothing. And in that short ten year period over the1920s they’re letting their dresses down again with shame. It’s a recalibration of society, and it’s so important and extraordinary. And the book truly is predicting the crash of the Great Depression.

MH: How relevant do you see the story from “The Great Gatsby” to today’s society?

BAZ: I think a great work is relevant at any time, but there’s no question it’s achingly pointed at where we’re standing at this moment. Where you see IT and software startups now, you used to see the prohibition and new money. Where you see jazz, you now see hip-hop. I mean it’s not about who’s good and who’s bad – once you make the adjustment that everyone’s living a little bit of a lie, everyone gets used to living a bigger lie. And you can’t underestimate that sense of the Prohibition; the amount of money being made out of it was insane. What you forget is that the rest of the world was drinking booze so if you’re a bootlegger, you wouldn’t be serving hooch, you’d get the good stuff. We did a lot of research on Harvard – and found you couldn’t get in trouble for having alcohol, you couldn’t sell it, but you could drink whatever you had in your cellar. And they just happened to have ten years worth of booze in their cellar!

MH: How much did you take from the 1974 film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow?

BAZ: I loved Robert Redford in the film – and I really saw him as Jay Gatsby. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. So let me tell you this: I’m on my way travelling after making “Moulin Rouge” and was on the Trans-Siberian train – and I had a bottle of wine, and two books. And one was “The Great Gatsby”, and I read it and at 4am, I was like “this is amazing”. We’ve done a lot of research, one using a lot of original language in it, but also – it was written by a 30 year old. Parents were arresting their children and putting them into court because they were so out of control – so we’re about rying to retain the spirit of the book and the sense of the book.

MH: And that spirit of excess?

BAZ: [laughing] You have no idea how much work goes into making a party…

MH: What do you hope viewers take away from watching this film, especially if it’s so relevant today?

BAZ: Well, I’d be really happy if people remember to go to the movie in the first place! Movies are like children. At the moment they’re our everything and they are your life. And at the certain point, they grow up and go off to university. That’s like going off to the film festival. And years later, people come and talk to you about a movie and it’s like they’re really close to it and you’re like a distant relative at that point. And I just hope we do justice to the book, illuminate the book and we open the door on the book to a new generation of people reading it. And that we tell the story very well and that a whole lot of people buy tickets!

MH: What about the insane amount of diamonds used in the film – all from Tiffany’s!

BAZ: That’s not crazy. What’s crazy is my wife carrying a 2 million dollar bracelet in the middle of the road! Fitzgerald had a great relationship with Tiffany’s. And it’s a collaborative history that we’ve got with the book. And Tiffany’s been absolutely phenomenal. And if you want to express the world of decadence and excess, you’ve got to get the real thing. I mean plastic looks great but the real thing shines so much brighter!

[At this point Baz has got to go and actually film some the movie… but we quickly squeeze in a last couple of questions]

MH: And what about Leonardo in the film?

BAZ: I had him in mind years ago when I was trying to get the rights to the film, and I’ve never thought of anyone else.

MH: And what about the 3D aspect of the film? What are you trying to achieve with that?

BAZ: The 3D is about watching the special effects. It’s about seeing these awesome actors in the prime of their careers, going at each other for 10 pages in a room. Watching these actors do that is something amazing.

“The Great Gatsby” is released in the USA on May 10, 2013 and in Australia on May 30, 2013.