Director’s Passion, Drive Brought ‘Gatsby’ Film Project to Life

In early 2011, Baz Luhrmann flew from Sydney to L.A., attempting to save The Great Gatsby from collapse.

Seven years after he first had contemplated adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel about obsessive love, the director’s passion project was in trouble. New York, where he had hoped to shoot, was proving too expensive for Sony, which wanted to limit his budget to $80 million. And now the studio insisted on finding partners to defray the cost. Without them, the movie was dead.

So in January of that year, Luhrmann plunged into a Warner Bros. conference room, where he met such top-level executives as Jeff Robinov, Greg Silverman, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg and Kevin Tsujihara.

For two hours, he bewitched them with a torrent of words explaining how he would mix old and new, blend hip-hop with sounds from the ’20s and use 3D to make the movie modern — all while showing clips he’d videotaped of Leonardo DiCaprio workshopping scenes.

“I went into that room and thought, ‘In this moment, I’ve got to tell this story like I’ve never told it before,’ ” he recalls.

Sitting with the 50-year-old Australian on a mid-April afternoon in New York’s Ace Hotel, not far from the place he now calls home and in the very room where he and writing partner Craig Pearce wrote their script, it’s easy to understand why Warners said yes. He virtually bubbles over with passion, his enthusiasm erupting in a cavalcade of words.

He can entrance you with tales of dining alongside Bill Clinton at his neighbor Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s (he does a spot-on impersonation of the former president); or having iconic singer David Bowie walk his dogs; or discussing 3D with filmmakers Ang Lee and James Cameron.

All this he does with such a lack of self-consciousness, you almost overlook the name-dropping — helped by his touch of Gatsby’s flair, with his immaculately coiffed silver hair, Patek Philippe watch (a gift from Tiffany & Co., a marketing partner on the film) and gleaming shoes on sockless feet.

Sometimes manic, sometimes more modulated, he flits from one subject to another without pause — from the books he’s been reading (Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Jay-Z’s Decoded) to the TV shows he watches with his children (Disney’s Gravity Falls, when not skipping among CNN, the BBC and Fox) to his hair. Especially his hair…

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