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We Ask Australian Baz Luhrmann About Austria


Back at the end of last year, we spoke to Baz Luhrmann, the Australian director of such over the top sagas as "Moulin Rouge" and the recent "The Great Gatsby" with Leonardo DiCaprio.

BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: Given the over-the-top style of his films, we assumed his home life was just like that, but he denied it.


SAGAL: You have such a theatrical imagination. I just imagine you growing up with a traveling circus, at the very least the daughter of a ballerina.

BAZ LUHRMANN: I grew up in a very isolated, tiny town, and no one ever wins a bet when they say their town was smaller than mine because it was 11 houses - it was very isolated. But I was always doing pretty much what I'm doing now, which is imagining, creating, telling stories - stuff like that.

SAGAL: And did your parents encourage you in this?

LUHRMANN: Fantastically so. My father was so intense. He was in the Vietnam War. And, I mean, we had to learn to paint and ballroom dance and do commando training.


LUHRMANN: We were the sort of renaissance...

SAGAL: Wait a minute, you just said your father was very intense, a Vietnam veteran, and you had to learn to paint and to ballroom dance and to do commando training.


LUHRMANN: Yes. Well, he was - he was in the Navy. He created basically the Navy SEALs in Vietnam. So that came into it.

SAGAL: Right. So, wait a minute, he was like I'm going to send you out in the wilderness with nothing but a knife and a beautiful chiffon gown, and I want you to get back alive? Was it like that?

LUHRMANN: No, in truth - and this is the truth - he did take myself, my two other brothers, he did dump us in the wilderness with not even a knife, just a rope, right? And on the way back, I found the chiffon gown, but, you know...


LUHRMANN: But he really did send us out into the wilderness, absolutely. And you know what? We were terrified. And when we got back, we found out, of course, he secretly followed us. But he used to do it on a regular basis, actually.

SAGAL: He used to take you out into the wilderness on a regular basis and leave you there?

LUHRMANN: Yes, yes, absolutely. And we had to find our way home.

SAGAL: I have to ask, how do you think this has affected your art?


LUHRMANN: Well, it's made me realize that you have to follow your own course, that it's going to be scary, that you have to be well-prepared, well-trained, and hopefully there's someone looking after you.

SAGAL: So what you're basically...

ADAM FELBER: I would get a much more literal lesson from that.

SAGAL: Right. Like?

FELBER: My take-away from that would be sometimes dad abandons me in the wilderness.


NEKO CASE: But at least I have this rope.

SAGAL: Yeah. And so - I mean, has it given you...

LUHRMANN: You've seen my movies, right? I try and explain it in the films. Surely, it's clear.


SAGAL: So your last movie was "The Great Gatsby," which…

LUHRMANN: Yes, you can blame me, yes.

SAGAL: No, it was amazing. It was great.

LUHRMANN: Thank you.

SAGAL: And it's so incredibly lavish and huge in every way. It looked like it must have been a real joy to shoot.

LUHRMANN: No, it was not.


LUHRMANN: The thing about it is, it ultimately comes down to a very simple drama of a few people in a room. But the big thing was I had to create all of Long Island, sunny Long Island, in Australia, when it did nothing but rain every single day. So I had the world's best cast in the world's worst situation.

SAGAL: So you went to Australia and you built Long Island in Australia?

LUHRMANN: Well, Gatsby's mansion is in fact my old high school.

SAGAL: No, is it really?

LUHRMANN: Yes, it is, with a bit of CG.

SAGAL: So that must have been - I mean, I've heard of people going back to their high school proms to show how successful they are - or rather I should say high school reunions. But you actually went back to your high school and used it as a movie set. Did that give you a - were you popular in high school?

LUHRMANN: . I don't know. Is being hit on the head with a clump of dirt continually and being jeered at popular? I wasn't really, no.


SAGAL: So...

FELBER: I don't understand why you need a high school that big for a town with 11 houses.


LUHRMANN: Well, I ran away, and then I found my mother, and she put me in that big school.

FELBER: Oh, I see.

ALONZO BODDEN: Now did the people hitting you with clumps of dirt realize you had commando training?


LUHRMANN: You know what? I could handle it. I just sucked it up, you know. And then I waited for my moment.


SAGAL: It must have been - well that's what I mean. Like I said, I mean, our usual fantasy if we're not happy in high school is I'm going to come back some day, and I'm going to be successful. I'm going to show everybody...

LUHRMANN: That's exactly - that's exactly I think what happened.

SAGAL: Did you ever say to yourself when you were having clumps of dirt thrown at your head in high school, someday I'm going to come back here and use the gutted shell of this building as a set for my $200 million movie with the biggest movie star in the world?

LUHRMANN: I had something like that in mind, yeah.


SAGAL: Did you really? Baz Luhrmann, we are so delighted to talk to you, and now it is time to play a game we're calling...



SAGAL: So you're from Australia, mate.

LUHRMANN: Very good.

FELBER: That was good.

LUHRMANN: Yeah. (Speaking Australian).

SAGAL: Well, from - you're from Australia, where people are rugged and tough and independent. We're from America, where people are dumb and mix up Australia and Austria. Well, we're going to ask you three questions about that other country, Austria. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is director Baz Luhrmann playing for?

KASELL: Baz is playing for Aya Bowman(ph) of Mesa, Arizona.

SAGAL: Ready to play?

LUHRMANN: Sorry, Aya, I'm going to tell you now the chances are very slim. I'll do my best.

SAGAL: All right. With that out of the way, let's go. Here's your first question. So there's this town in Austria, and it’s pretty well known ‘cause its name is Fucking, which is pronounced that way but it’s spelled like a word in English that's pronounced not quite that way, if you get my drift.


SAGAL: So they're getting very tired of having all their signs stolen and people coming and laughing and pointing at the signs. So they tried to change their name. But there was a problem, and they couldn't do it. What was the problem? A, they tried to change it to Fugging, Austria, but that name was taken; B, they tried changed it to Making Sweet Sweet Love, Austria...


SAGAL: …But the signs still got stolen; or C, the mayor vetoed on the grounds that he really liked being called the Fucking mayor.



SAGAL: It's A, Fugging? You're right, that's what happened.


SAGAL: It turns out there's another town in Austria called Fugging.

LUHRMANN: Yes there is, Fugging, yes.

SAGAL: All right, that's good, you get one right. So they've got McDonald's in Austria, of course, just like everywhere. Well, a few years back, a McDonald's Austria showed a controversial ad, was it which of these? A, a somber 90-second black-and-white short film called simply "Grimace's Funeral."


SAGAL: B, a beautiful full-color photo running in magazines of a baby appearing to breastfeed from a sesame seed bun.


SAGAL: Or C, a TV spot with the slogan translated from the German, don't worry about the name McDonald's, no actual Irish here.

LUHRMANN: No, it's B.

SAGAL: It's B, the sesame seed bun being - the baby breastfeeding from the sesame seed bun?

LUHRMANN: I think so.

SAGAL: You're right.


SAGAL: You're doing very well. Last question. Austria is a great place to visit, and tourists can enjoy which of these unique attractions? A, a trip to the centuries-old Starkenberger Brewery, where you can literally go swimming in a pool of beer; B, the world famous Uder's Schnitzel House, where you can get a Stop Schnitzing T-shirt; or C, the Vienna Vienna Sausage restaurant, where the waiters remove that gross goo for you from the can.



SAGAL: It's B, it's the Stop Schnitzing T-shirt? No, it was actually the brewery where you can swim in the beer.

LUHRMANN: Oh, darn.


SAGAL: For those of you who have that dream...

LUHRMANN: I just (unintelligible)...

SAGAL: Carl, how did Baz Luhrmann do on our show?

KASELL: Well, he had two correct answers, Peter. That's enough to win.

SAGAL: You won. There's no need to feel bad.


SAGAL: Baz Luhrmann's latest movie is "The Great Gatsby." His new album, which you can get, he produced it, is called "Yellow Cocktail Music: The Great Gatsby Jazz Recordings." The movie is "The Great Gatsby," and our guest, Baz Luhrmann. Thank you so much for being with us.


LUHRMANN: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.

SAGAL: It was really fun to have you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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