The director found their chemistry "Spectacular, spectacular!"

By Andrea Towers
May 06, 2021 at 10:22 AM EDT
Moulin Rouge; Heath Ledger
Credit: Everett Collection; Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

20 years ago, Moulin Rouge burst onto the big screen in a dazzling array of sweeping songs and colorful costumes, bringing us a timeless love story.

Director Baz Luhrmann is now looking back at the Academy Award-nominated production that changed the landscape of movie musicals when it premiered in 2001, and remembering a 'beautiful' audition between Nicole Kidman (Satine) and the late Heath Ledger, who almost secured the role of Christian.

"A young Heath Ledger was up for the role and I thought maybe the character could be very young," Lurhmann said in an interview with "And it turned out they did really work together. And it was quite beautiful." Ultimately, Ledger didn't end up being cast due to his age, as the actor was only 21 at the time of his audition whereas Kidman was 33. Luhrmann thought that the age difference between the two leads was too extensive, so the part went to the then 30-year-old Ewan McGregor.

MOULIN ROUGE!, Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, 2001, TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.
Credit: Everett Collection

Ledger's almost-casting isn't new information, but hearing Lurhmann reflect on the fact that we could have seen the actor performing "Elephant Love Medley" makes us wish that we had the opportunity to at least see that audition tape. There were some positive things to come out of not being cast in Lurhmann's film, though — specifically, a friendship with Jake Gyllenhaal, who was also one of the three actors short-listed for the role of Christian.

"It was Ewan, it was Heath, and me," revealed Gyllenhaal in a 2018 GQ cover story. "And we auditioned with many different actresses, it was a long process. But I never met Heath, I only heard about him." Gyllenhaal admitted that Ledger turned down another role offered to him by Luhrmann due to the frustration of the audition process for Moulin Rouge, saying "that was how much Heath loved me. That was how I met him."

The pair would go on to appear opposite one another in 2005's Brokeback Mountain

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