Baz Luhrmann's first movie, Strictly Ballroom, was a cheap, independent romance set in the world of ballroom dancing. The 1992 film became an international hit. Since then, the director, writer and producer has become known for his lavish operatic movies like Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge! and the recent The Great Gatsby.
Luhrmann's from Australia, where people are rugged and tough. We're from America, where people are dumb and mix up Australia and Austria. So we're going to ask Luhrmann three questions about that other country that he isn't from, Austria.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask somebody who is cool about something that is lame. Baz Luhrmann's first movie, "Strictly Ballroom," was a cheap indie romance set in the world of ballroom dancing. It became an international hit.
Since then, he's become known for his lavish operatic movies like "Romeo and Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge" and most recently "The Great Gatsby." We are sorry we can't see his ornate costume, but still, Baz Luhrmann, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! How are you?
BAZ LUHRMAN: I'm thrilled to be here. You're lacking my ornate costume.
SAGAL: I know, well, I have to ask, your movies are so fabulously over the top in terms of their costumes and their music. And I mean is that how you live? Do you have like a band?
LUHRMAN: Well, everyone does expect when they meet me that I've got a top hat and a cane, but no, we live quite a minimal - I wouldn't say it was a normal life, but we live - it's the circus life we know, Peter.
SAGAL: I understand. Is that how you grew up? I mean, 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.
LUHRMAN: 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. And we had a gas station, a farm and a cinema. 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?
LUHRMAN: 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.
LUHRMAN: 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.
LUHRMAN: Well, he was - he created basically the Navy SEALs in the Navy 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?
LUHRMAN: 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...
LUHRMAN: 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?
LUHRMAN: 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?
LUHRMAN: 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'll have this rope.
SAGAL: Yeah. And so - I mean, has it given you...?
LUHRMAN: 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."
LUHRMAN: Yes, you can blame me, yes.
SAGAL: No, it was amazing. It was great.
LUHRMAN: 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.
LUHRMAN: No, it was not.
LUHRMAN: And in fact the training from dad came in handy because, I mean, apart from...
FELBER: You left Leo DiCaprio...
LUHRMAN: You know, my father abandoned me in the forest, I don't know if I mentioned that, but...
SAGAL: You've mentioned that, yeah.
LUHRMAN: The thing is, the thing about it is that like the book, which is very flashy and seductive like the Roaring '20s, like Gatsby is when you meet him, 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, you built Long Island in Australia.
LUHRMAN: Well, Gatsby's mansion is in fact my old high school.
SAGAL: No, is it really?
LUHRMAN: 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, or were you one of those...
LUHRMAN: No, I was like the - I moved several times. My parents broke up. I ran away. To be honest with you, I wouldn't say I was popular. 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.
FELBER: I don't understand why you need a high school that big for a town with 11 houses.
LUHRMAN: 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 realized you had commando training?
LUHRMAN: You know what? I could handle it. I just sucked it up, you know. I mean, 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...
LUHRMAN: 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 with the biggest movie star in the world?
LUHRMAN: I had something like that in mind, yeah.
SAGAL: Did you really? Baz Luhrman, we are so delighted to talk to you, and now it is time to play a game we're calling...
CARL KASELL: Guten Tag, Mate
SAGAL: So you're from Australia, mate.
LUHRMAN: Very good.
FELBER: That was good.
LUHRMAN: Yeah, that is good Australian accent.
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?
LUHRMAN: 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. Recently, residents of the town of Fucking, Australia - let me try that again.
LUHRMAN: It's the other country.
FELBER: No idea where this one's going.
SAGAL: Yeah. So there's this town...
LUHRMAN: There is no Fooking in Australia.
SAGAL: Oh yeah? Where do the Australians come from? All right. So there is this town in Austria, and it's pretty well-known because its name is Fucking, which is pronounced that way but spelled like a word in English that's pronounced not quite that way, if you get my drift.
LUHRMAN: I don't know what you're talking about, but I'll go with you.
SAGAL: All right. 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 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.
LUHRMAN: It's A.
SAGAL: It's A, Fugging? You're right, that's what happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It turns out there's another town in Austria called Fugging.
LUHRMAN: Yes there is, Fugging, yes.
SAGAL: We better get off this topic before someone slips. 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, McDonald's Austria showed a controversial ad, caused some controversy. 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 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.
CASE: Like ground up in the burgers?
SAGAL: Well, maybe.
LUHRMAN: No, it's B.
SAGAL: It's B, the sesame seed bun being - the baby breastfeeding from the sesame seed bun?
LUHRMAN: I think so.
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
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.
LUHRMAN: It's B.
SAGAL: It's B, it's the Stop Schnitzing T-shirt? No, it was actually the brewery where you can swim in the beer.
LUHRMAN: Oh, darn.
SAGAL: For those of you who have that dream...
LUHRMAN: 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.
LUHRMAN: Can you remind me the brand of that beer? I'd kind of like to not serve it.
SAGAL: I don't know if they...
SAGAL: Starkenberger beer, Starkenberger beer.
LUHRMAN: It's delicious. People have just been washing their armpits in it.
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.
LUHRMAN: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.
SAGAL: It was really fun to have you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SAGAL: In just a minute, Carl delivers limericks that will melt your face off. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on air.
(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.