That Time Heath Ledger Nearly Landed Moulin Rouge Opposite Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor singing in Moulin Rouge
(Image credit: (Fox))

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s jukebox musical Moulin Rouge, so naturally it’s time for some behind-the-scenes reflection. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor’s Christian and Satine have gone down in history as a memorable pairing, sending off fireworks of chemistry, especially in their song “Come What May.” While the movie was being cast, the role of Christian nearly went to The Dark Knight star Heath Ledger.

The late actor was attached to playing the lead role at one time, when he was just 20 years old. Nicole Kidman, who was 13 years older than Heath Ledger, had already been locked in as Satine. Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann recalled the casting decision to

There’s some stories to tell here … A young Heath Ledger was up for the role and I thought maybe the character could be very young. And it turned out they (Ledger and Kidman) did really work together. And it was quite beautiful. But Heath was just too young in the end.

As it turned out, despite the age gap, Heath Ledger and Nicole Kidman were a great match together for Moulin Rouge too. However, it did come down to their steep age difference, to which Baz Luhrmann started thinking about Ewan McGregor. Luhrmann continued to the Australian site with the following:

I went and saw Ewan and worked with him vocally, and I went and saw Nicole and I worked with her vocally, and I put them together in my head. The real moment was when they met in Sydney and we did the first day of rehearsals.

The rest was history. Of course, it’s never easy to imagine another pairing when you put together one as iconic as Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor pulled off, but it would have been great to see Heath Ledger in a musical and alongside the talented Nicole Kidman. It’s perhaps even more of an intriguing idea considering there were a lot of different roles Ledger assumedly missed out on when he tragically died at the age of 28 back in 2008.

Heath Ledger was most famously The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, for which he received a posthumous Oscar for in 2009. But along with that, he also dabbled in all sorts of genres, between the rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the period comedy A Knight’s Tale, the American Revolution drama The Patriot and, of course, Brokeback Mountain.

Interestingly enough, a 22-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal, who was Heath Ledger’s love interest in Brokeback Mountain, was reportedly in the mix for Moulin Rouge as well over 20 years ago, but he likely posed a similar problem to Ledger. You can relive Moulin Rouge over on Disney+ right now, alongside an exciting list of new releases coming to the streaming service this month.

Baz Luhrmann’s next epic will showcase Austin Butler’s Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as the rock star’s manager. It is expected to come to theaters June 3, 2022.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.