Moulin Rouge May Never Have Happened Without Help From Elton John And Two More Musical Icons, According To Baz Luhrmann

Ewan McGregor during "Your Song" from Moulin Rouge and Elton John
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Moulin Rouge! just turned 20 years old, but even after two decades, the film's cultural impact is still being felt. Case in point, Moulin Rouge! The Musical swept the Tony Awards in September, taking home 10 trophies, including Best Musical. Well, as it turns out, the iconic tracks heard throughout the film were almost very different until a slew of rock music legends, including Elton John, swept in and helped writer/director Baz Luhrmann maintain his original vision for the jukebox musical.

I recently sat down with Baz Luhrmann to congratulate him on the film’s 20th anniversary and the musical’s Tony wins when he launched into an impassioned display of gratitude toward those who helped the film get made. This includes Paul McCartney, David Bowie and the man who “led the charge,” Elton John. He explained that the music publishers wanted nothing to do with mash-ups or musical adaptations, so he had no choice but to go to the artists themselves. Luhrmann recalled:

So the only way I got that to happen was I actually, I did not know Elton John at that stage. I mean, we became great friends and we’ve even written stuff together. But I rang Elton, he said ‘wow that’s such a great idea. Come around, see me.’ So I flew all the way to London. And when Elton saw the idea, he said, ‘this is brilliant. I’m going to help make this happen.’ And he led the charge, and I’ll forever be grateful to Elton. But pretty much, it was the artists who rang up the publishers and made it happen.

Elton John’s “Your Song” is featured prominently in Moulin Rouge! as Ewan McGregor’s Christian serenades his star-crossed lover, Nicole Kidman’s Satine. It’s become such an iconic moment that the idea of any other track being used in its place is nearly unthinkable. If you haven’t seen the film in a while, here is a quick refresher:

But Elton John isn’t the only knighted, rock music superstar to have taken a role in pushing the project forward. The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” is also prominently featured in the film, and Paul McCartney “swung in” to push publishers in the right direction. David Bowie took it up a notch by not only supporting the film’s use of his song “Heroes,” but also working with Baz Luhrmann directly to provide vocals for the film’s cover of “Nature Boy.” As Luhrmann explained:

I mean, Paul McCartney, like, swung in. You know, I reached out to all the artists and then one of the great joys of Moulin Rouge 20 years ago was I got to work with a lot of my icons and some of them I just knew and some became very great friends. David Bowie was such an icon of mine. And I rang him and I met with him and he saw the idea and he said, ‘you know, what you’re doing is actually decoding for the audience, the emotions. So from one decoder to another, I’m in.’ And David, we did that work. He recorded an extraordinary vocal, of which I have an unreleased vocal but still amazing. And then years later, we became very good friends.

Perhaps the most charming part of this story is that after working with his heroes, Baz Luhrmann managed to develop meaningful relationships with them. The rock icons were right to put their faith in Luhrmann, as the film became a cultural phenomenon (despite its mixed critical reception) and ended up winning two Oscars. 

As for Baz Luhrmann’s future, he has plenty of projects in the works. Moulin Rouge! The Musical just opened in Melbourne, will open in London in a few weeks, and then will be touring on American soil before making its way to Tokyo. He’s also writing and directing 2022’s Elvis Presley biopic. It stars Austin Butler as the icon himself and features performances from Tom Hanks and Dacre Montgomery. If you’re wondering what to watch while you anxiously await Luhrmann’s next feature, we’ve got you covered. 

Jeff McCobb
Senior Video Producer

Jeff is a film buff who is ridden with gratitude that he gets to spout opinions about them for a living. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spends his time complaining about Los Angeles.