As the iconic film approaches its 20th anniversary, director Baz Luhrmann is looking back on what could've been. He tells news.com.au, "There's some stories to tell" about the casting of the musical, which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2002 Academy Awards.
"A young Heath Ledger was up for the role and I thought maybe the character could be very young," he explained. "And it turned out they [Ledger and Kidman] did really work together. And it was quite beautiful."
But, Luhrmann was hesitant to give the 10 Things I Hate About You actor the role because of the 12-year age difference between Kidman, who was 33 at the time, and a 21-year-old Ledger.
Knowing that Kidman was perfect for the role of Satine, Luhrmann went with McGregor since Ledger was "just too young."
Luhrmann, who directed 2013's The Great Gatsby, said that once he had McGregor and Kidman in the same room, he knew he made the right decision. He explained that the duo were hypnotic in rehearsals, sharing, "They were walking around, going into the elephant, and they were hysterical and wonderfully matched. They were great. He was just the perfect partner for Nicole."
There was also another possible contender for the role of Christian: Jake Gyllenhaal. Like Ledger, he was also too young for the role, but their experience auditioning for Christian gave them something to laugh over while on set of Brokeback Mountain, according to Gyllenhaal's 2018 interview with GQ Australia.
"I was auditioning for Moulin Rouge! Baz Luhrmann had chosen three actors. It was Ewan, it was Heath, and me. And we auditioned with many different actresses, it was a long process," he recalled. "But I never met Heath, I only heard about him. We would be shuffled in and out of rooms. They would literally put me in a room and lock the door and Heath would come in and then Heath would be shuffled through the door. I never saw him."
After they met, they both bonded over their "mutual frustration" of losing out on the opportunity to star in Moulin Rouge!, but it also became a joke of sorts. As he put it, "Heath called me and he was like, [affects Ledger impersonation] ‘Hey mate, I got some news for you'. I said, ‘What?' He said, ‘Baz just offered me his next movie. I just wanted you to know, I f--king turned it down!'"
Gyllenhaal said it was proof of "how much Heath loved me."
For his part, Luhrmann acknowledged that he can be difficult to work with. He admitted, "I put everyone through their paces, I don't make exceptions for anyone. It's not that I want to test them but I want to test myself. I'm learning about the character by working with them."