Though he began his career as an actor, director/writer/producer Baz Luhrmann found his flamboyant talent was better served behind the scenes. Born BazMark Luhrmann in a Sydney, Australia, suburb, Luhrmann returned to Sydney after a rural childhood to attend the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. Though he appeared with Judy Davis in the film Winter of Our Dreams (1982), Luhrmann redirected his artistic pursuits, creating the original version of what would become his future film debut, Strictly Ballroom (1992), for the stage in 1986. He continued to mount musical theater and opera productions throughout the 1980s and early '90s, including a 1950s-set version of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème in 1990. Working with longtime collaborators Craig Pearce and Catherine Martin, Luhrmann brought his vibrant sensibility to film with the cinematic version of Strictly Ballroom. Full of garish colors, exuberant dancing, and ironic yet sincere sentiment, the romantic fable made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival and became an international, prize-winning hit. Luhrmann next worked his postmodern magic on an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996). As with La Bohème, he re-conceived the story for the 20th century, setting the famed tale of teen love in the candy-colored, Versace-clad milieu of "Verona Beach." With stars Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes delivering Shakespeare's prose as if it were vernacular, an eclectic soundtrack, and editing as kinetic as the Oscar-nominated production design, Romeo + Juliet became a box-office hit. Before he began production on the Nicole Kidman-Ewan McGregor musical Moulin Rouge (2001), Luhrmann put together music from his film and stage work for the CD Something for Everybody (1998). He notched a surprise hit single with "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," setting the text of a famous commencement speech to music from Romeo + Juliet. Merging personal and professional lives, Luhrmann and Martin married in 1997.
After a long gestation, Moulin Rouge made a splashy debut as the opening night attraction at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Though critical reception split over Luhrmann's postmodern reinterpretation of the musical, with dance numbers edited into a frenzy and stars Kidman, McGregor, and Jim Broadbent warbling such famous pop songs as "Your Song," "Heroes," "Like a Virgin," and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," his richly colored, sumptuously stylized vision of Belle Époque Paris and the eponymous night spot earned kudos across the board. Seen as a risky proposition for a mass audience unaccustomed to musicals, Moulin Rouge earned ardent fans and respectable box office as a durable alternative to the parade of uninspired summer 2001 blockbusters. After winning the National Board of Review's Best Picture award, several Golden Globe nominations, and Golden Globe statuettes for Best Actress Kidman and Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Moulin Rouge earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Though he was nominated for Director's and Writer's Guild awards, however, Luhrmann did not receive Oscar nods in either category. Still, Luhrmann's wife and creative partner Martin won the Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction, acknowledging Luhrmann and company's glorious visual achievement. Returning to his live theater roots, Luhrmann followed his Moulin Rouge success by reviving his version of La Bohème for the New York stage in December 2002. Having come full circle creatively with La Bohème and the concurrent release of his theatrically romantic "Red Curtain Trilogy" of Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Rouge on DVD, Luhrmann subsequently struck out in a new direction with plans to film an epic biopic of Alexander the Great, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the illustrious Greek conqueror.