Australian director Baz Luhrmann is best known for his films The Great Gatsby, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! Most recently he created a stage version of his 1992 hit film Strictly Ballroom, now playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. I caught up with the 51-year-old to chat about the hurdles he overcame to create Strictly Ballroom The Musical, working with his Oscar-winning wife, Catherine Martin, and fatherhood.
Oscar-winner Catherine Martin is enjoying the success of The Great Gatsby, for which she was the production and costume designer. I caught up with her to talk about the film, working with her husband, director Baz Luhrmann, and her love of home renovation shows.
Congratulations on your film becoming a worldwide hit.
Thank you. It’s really great for the piece to have found an audience because Baz really cares about the audience. He wants to connect with them and tell them a story that he is very passionate and interested in, so it’s fantastic that people are enjoying it.
Do you get nervous before one of your films is released?
Oh, so nervous! Incredibly stomach-churning nervous because you want to have the ability to make another movie and part of the guarantee of that is to make sure that it has success at the box office.
You and Baz are so creative and dream so big. How do you follow the same vision?
Well, ultimately you have to serve the director’s vision, so Baz is the boss! I am very happy with that scenario, so I’m lucky that I have the ability to go on the journey with him. That’s not to say we don’t disagree sometimes and that I’m not a genuine collaborator with him. I certainly have my opinion; it’s not like I walk around going, ”Yes, Baz, three bags full, Baz!” I’m sure he wishes that I were a little more like that [laughs]. He always says, ”You always play that you’re not the dragon lady but you sure have an opinion.”
What do you do to relax when you’re not working?
I’m half-French so I try to go every European summer and spend a month in Paris, and Baz says I play out my fantasy of being a housewife, which involves a lot of cooking and running the dry-cleaning down to the corner shop and things like that. He says I’m like Marie Antoinette, pretending to be a shepherdess. But then my real secret guilty pleasure is home renovation shows. My husband goes, ”Why are you watching that?” I find it incredibly relaxing. I also like Antiques Roadshow and [Baz] goes, ”Oh no!” but I really enjoy it. I’m really boring.
Do you and Baz discuss work at home or do you try to keep it separate?
We talk about work all the time but we have worked together for such a long time that we understand our expectations of each other of what someone can deliver in terms of energy. For instance, after a day of press it’s really hard to go, ”Sweetheart, let’s go and have a romantic dinner waterside,” when all you want to do, in my case, is watch Antiques Roadshow and he will be wanting to watch a documentary on the Second World War. I think that is the blessing of being in someone else’s life for such a long period of time – you share a common story so you are pretty clear about what your expectations are of the other person. So yes, we do talk about work at home, but the kids give us a hard time if we do it too much.
How does the whole design process start for you?
It’s very much by director, by Baz’s approach, and it will always start with the source material, so in this case [Gatsby] it starts with the book and really analysing the book and what the author is trying to say, finding any descriptions of what things are meant to look like. And then you set off on a process of discovery through research and trying to match up what the book is saying with documentary evidence. Gatsby wears a pink suit so you go, ”Were there any pink suits in 1922? Who made them? Did Brooks Brothers make them?” Through that process you discover things that are different to your first assumptions or confirm your first thoughts.
Do you have a career highlight?
They have been a lot on this particular journey with Great Gatsby and collaborating with Prada and Tiffany’s. One was when I was sent the artwork for the windows of the exhibition that was being done for the Prada Broadway store. Across the windows it said: ”Catherine Martin, Miuccia Prada dress Gatsby,” and I just went, ”Wow.” And then I got a little tear in my eye when I was in front of the Tiffany’s windows [looking at the collection] and I just thought, ”A girl from Lindfield on Fifth Avenue in the Tiffany’s windows, wow.” Also, my nine-year-old daughter is an avid fan of Katy Perry and I was able to introduce her to Katy Perry! That made me feel pretty special; it was another highlight.
WE WENT TO The Dining Room at the Park Hyatt, The Rocks.
WE ATE High tea, scones with jam and cream.
WE DRANK English breakfast tea and a cappuccino.
I WORE Sportmax top, Miu Miu leather pants & Jimmy Choo heels
CATHERINE WORE J.Crew from head to toe.
Photography: Tamara Dean