I grew up in a tiny country town in New South Wales, about 180 miles north of Sydney. It was like living on an island. There were 11 or so houses, and a gas station, and a farm. For a while we ran the local cinema.
When my father came out of the Vietnam war we were forced to have extremely short hair. This was the 70s, when if you didn’t have long hair you were a dead person, so it was a big problem. My parents broke up, I got estranged from my dad, and ended up in Sydney with the freedom to grow my hair. I’ve got really curly hair, and all the mean kids at the Christian Brothers’ College I went to started calling me Basil Brush, which then became Baz, which I then painted on the side of my school bag. When I was 19 I changed my name by deed poll to Bazmark. I’d always thought Mark was a boring name.
I was paradoxically rebellious. My greatest act of rebellion was running away. I was about 15 – my folks had had a very acrimonious divorce. Some people are lucky in that their parents stick together – mine didn’t. At some point when Dad started another relationship the pillar of my moral universe was suddenly shattered and I lost faith. Also, I was always going to go. I was never going to stick around in Heron’s Creek. Not for a second did I think, ‘This is going to be my lot.’
I’ve always created stories. Growing up I had to think the story out, get my friends together, shoot it on a camera or make a play. Even though I wasn’t too bad in front of the camera, I soon recognised that I was sitting there as an actor wanting to be in control of the storytelling.
I don’t feel any different today than I did in Heron’s Creek. I might be a globally recognised figure now, but I probably thought I was a globally recognised figure then, on my own little island.
When I started filmmaking it was like exploring the Amazon. I was like, ‘Why don’t we get the camera and do this?’ ‘Why don’t we go down the creek and weave it in?’ I’ve always found it incredibly empowering to have that ‘why don’t we?’ attitude.
Saying I’m a control freak is too simplistic. I’m not just a film director or an actor. I’m not an opera maker, or a magazine publisher, though I’ve been those, or a guy who does election campaigns, though I’ve done them, or makes hotels, though I’ve done that, or makes a lot of music. I just deal in ideas and stories. That’s my currency.
I need freedom above all else. I can’t do things any other way. I have to feel free enough to say, ‘I want to do it like that.’
I turned 60 in September. I don’t feel any different, but intellectually I recognise that there are now things I’m less able to control. I see the number on a piece of paper – ‘60’ – and I think, ‘What?’ But I don’t freak out about it. I’m going to have to die at some point.
The first time I met my wife, Catherine, the one-hour meeting we were supposed to have took three hours. I was running a theatre company in the 80s and looking for young designers. We talked about everything from Brecht to Madonna. It was a big conversation, and that conversation is still going today. She knows me more than any person on the planet.
I don’t like to look back. I don’t want to look back on my work. I’m no longer me doing Moulin Rouge! at 40, or Strictly Ballroom at 28. I want to be the me of today or tomorrow. I only really want to look forward.
Baz Luhrmann is a creative ambassador for Bombay Sapphire