Think back to a time before you were going to the movies to see the latest musical. Chances are, not many of those existed, and if they did, they were questionable at best. They didn’t receive much attention and no one was really going for them in any real capacity. Then, in the early 21st century, came a new musical, a wild and crazy thing that took the world over.
That thing was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, a musical featuring popular, well-known songs throughout, featuring comedy, tragedy, music, and love. It not only went on to make plenty of money, but it also got much awards attention, and continues to be praised years later.
As one might expect, quite a lot occurred before the movie publicly released. There were delays, rewrites, along with inspired decisions, and technological wizardry, all of which came together to create the film we know it as today. This list compiles a variety of behind the scenes information, some of it not too unknown, while some of it will likely come as a surprise.
Without further ado, we present to you, in all its glory, 15 Secrets Behind The Making Of Moulin Rouge.
In a movie full of bizarre moments, this early one sticks out—or fades from memory almost immediately, due to the insanity that follows after. Christian celebrates with the bohemians by drinking (for the first time) absinthe, which results in them hallucinating The Green Fairy (played by Kylie Minogue), who dances around playfully, sings “The Sound of Music,” and then goes demonic right before we enter the cabaret.
As the credits point out, Minogue plays the fairy, but the voice is done by Ozzy Osbourne.
This is because Ozzy was originally going to play the Fairy in its more demonic form, which didn’t come to pass. What did stay, though, was Ozzy’s scream, which we do see in the final cut via Minogue’s red-eyed Fairy.
Nicole Kidman has said she went to great lengths for her role as Satine, which shows in the final product. That includes fitting into garments that might have been a bit too tight on her frame, resulting in injuries.
As it turns out, one of the injuries Kidman sustained while making the film was a broken rib, as a result of trying to fit into an 18-inch corset. Additionally, she’d hurt herself “dancing in heels” and “fell downstairs.” Luhrmann said Kidman also smashed her knee, which delayed the film, as well as resulted in Kidman having to pull out of another movie at the time.
According to the director, the scene where Satine says “A real actress” had Kidman in a wheelchair with her leg up.
John Leguizamo appeared in Luhrmann’s previous motion picture, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, a polarizing movie that decided using poetic vernacular in a contemporary setting works just fine. While Leguizamo’s character in that film (Tybalt Capulet) was a scary, crazy man, his character in Moulin Rouge was that of real life painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famous for his paintings of the Paris nightlife and underworld.
In order to accurately capture the real man’s short stature, Leguizamo had to walk on his knees with the use of prosthes, while his real legs were digitally removed. While he wasn’t always on his knees for the production, the prostheses caused his legs to go numb, and the strain on his back required him to seek physical therapy afterwards.
Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox musical, which means all the songs used in the movie are pre-existing. In the case of this musical, that includes songs that mix-in lyrics from other songs, too, creating mishmashes, and occasionally frantic dance numbers.
However, there is one original among all the covers, and it’s a prominent track: “Come What May”. The song is important, plot wise, as the song Christian and Satine can sing to one another as declarations of their love. However, the song was originally written for Luhrmann’s previous film, Romeo + Juliet, but wasn’t used, so it was brought back for this movie.
Due to this, the song was ineligible for the Best Song Academy Award, because it was originally written for another film, and not the one it was ultimately put it.
There was a time when Leonardo DiCaprio was the biggest heartthrob in Hollywood, and during this time, he managed to star as Romeo in Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Additionally, just a year or so later, he starred in James Cameron’s Titanic, still one of the most successful movies ever made. By the late 1990s, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t anything Leo couldn’t do.
Due to being friends with Luhrmann, he decided to try his luck and audition for the lead role of Christian. Only problem was Leo couldn’t sing: “I have a pretty atrocious voice.”
As he tells it, a meeting with Luhrmann, where they sang a song over piano, didn’t end too well, especially when he hit a high note and director Luhrmann said to him “I don’t know if this conversation should continue.”
While probably best known as the widow of one Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love is also well known for being lead singer and guitarist for the band Hole, as well as acting in some movies here and there. She was even considered for the role of Satine, but this didn’t come to pass.
Luhrmann has stated that Love’s involvement was two-fold, as she granted him permission to use Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the film. He says he visited Love and provided a hefty sum of $125,000, as well as showed her the finished project. However, he had originally had Marilyn Manson sing it, which didn’t sit well with Love due to their infamous feud. It had to be rerecorded just before the film’s wide release.
Viewers with keen eyes may have noticed this, but it likely escaped notice for almost everyone else. The character of Satie (the bald guy who plays the piano) is often seeing wearing a very colorful scarf. Again, for most people, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal, except for a few noteworthy things about it.
For one thing, it looks just like The Doctor’s original scarf—yes, that Doctor - no doubt a reference to the fictional character, and fitting in nicely with the rest of character’s attire. But it goes deeper than that. Costume designer James Acheson took suggestions of making The Doctor look “bohemian” and unconsciously came up with the idea of the scarf from famous images of Aristide Braunt, who would show up on posters painted by— who else —Toulouse-Lautrec.
Way back when Hollywood was a new and exciting thing, they would make virtually every movie in what is known as a back lot. As the name implies, this was a lot on studio premises where a movie would be shot, most likely in its entirety.
Even in the twenty-first century, movies are still shot and done in studios, though location shooting is a bit more common these days than in the past. All the same, location shooting isn’t as economical as just shooting inside a studio.
In case the intentional, fantastical look of Luhrmann’s Paris, France circa 1900 didn’t clue you in, the movie was shot at Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia, with no location shooting whatsoever. Considering the time period and style, this was probably always going to be the case, and it works out wonderfully in the end.
Something that can happen with a film— whether shooting on location or in a studio— is that production goes on longer than wanted or expected. This does not always spell doom and gloom for a production, but it very well can if things aren’t handled properly. The best of films can always make these setbacks work for them, and they certainly didn’t deter Moulin Rouge!.
George Lucas was beginning work on his upcoming motion picture, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which needed the Fox Studios in Sydney. This resulted in Moulin Rouge! having to do pickup shots in Madrid, Spain (which included scenes with Kidman while she was still recovering from her injuries on set). Funny enough, both movies starred Ewan McGregor.
Being shot on a soundstage and creating a specific amount of sets can sometimes limit what you’re able to do and show in whatever movie it is you’re making. Even before that, screenwriters and directors might have a grand idea for their film, but might tighten and shorten that scope for one reason or another.
In the case of Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann and fellow co-writer Craig Pearce had considered including other scenes outside of the titular cabaret, but ultimately decided to just focus on the Moulin Rouge as “the whole world.”
The writers had considered a scene involving a count, Oscar Wilde, and an absinthe-filled night of debauchery, but scrapped it since they felt it would be too much. As Craig says it, “we went through a lot of really extreme options.”
As anyone who has seen Moulin Rouge! can confirm, the film features a plethora of different songs sung, some of which are only a few lines intertwined within a bigger, longer melody. There are also songs that receive special spotlight on their own, such as Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” and Elton John’s “Your Song.”
As can be expected, some of the songs planned to be featured were ultimately dropped. Some of these (such as 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”) were dropped over rewrites; others weren’t included because the artists in question said no.
Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens, was one of these artists, who did not allow the use of his song “Father and Son” (which would have opened the film). The Rolling Stones also denied the use of their songs being featured.
Moulin Rouge! seems relatively wild and out there for a musical, with infectious energy and camera work, along with overdramatic and comedic moments next to tragic and emotional ones. Someone who watches the movie might think it’s all over the place for no specific reason. However, if we go by Luhrmann’s words, he was just being influenced by Bollywood.
Bollywood is the most common word associated with Hindi cinema, with the name being a mix of “Bombay” (Mumbai) and “Hollywood.”
In these films, a variety of different themes and philosophies can be explored, and there can often be musical numbers interspersed throughout. Luhrmann is said to have been quite inspired by these types of films, and he hoped that Moulin Rouge! would be able to reach and break through to Western audiences the way Bollywood cinema does to Indian audiences.
Among the many and varied musical numbers featured in the film, “Sparkling Diamond” is one to remember. Aside from being a wonderful scene, it introduces the character of Satine, which in turn demonstrates how all the men in the Moulin Rouge go crazy for her.
The song “Sparkling Diamond” mostly consists of the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, and has its lyrics altered in a few spots for the sake of avoiding anachronisms. For one, the name Harry Winston is omitted and replaced with Harry Zidler (the character in the film who owns the cabaret). .
Additionally, the name of one of the jewelers mentioned—Frost—was changed to nonsense words that many have interpreted as “Ross Cole.” Also, the line about an Automat was changed to “pussy cat,” purr included.
One of the things Moulin Rouge! truly excels at is style, which ranges from the musical numbers, to the set design, all the way down to the costumes. Characters and certain groups of people can be identified by their attire, be it the cabaret dancer outfits, the men in their tuxes and top hats, or the bohemians in garbs that look less than fancy.
When it comes to apparel, Satine’s diamond necklace is probably the most immediately eye-catching.
The necklace was designed by Stefano Canturi, a Sydney jeweler who was present during the scenes it was used in. Additionally, since the necklace gets torn off in the film, a “stunt double” was made, which featured crystal instead of diamond. While this crystal version was displayed for a public jewelry exhibit, the diamond version is in the hands of a private collector, and said to be worth $3 million.
Moulin Rouge! had a bit of trouble behind the scenes, but did get finished eventually. It was slated to be released in December of 2000, and was seen as a high-profile movie for that winter. However, the studio, 20th Century Fox, decided to give Luhrmann more time to polish up his film post-production, so the release was moved several months.
Because of this, the film was actually able to premiere at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. But it gets better: it was the festival’s opening film, which most people would find to be quite the honor. The film went on to be positively reviewed and became the first musical in ten years to receive an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture. Controversially, Luhrmann did not receive a Best Director nom.
Do you have any more Moulin Rouge trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!