In the 2000s, the critical, financial, and Oscar success of Ridley Scott’s ancient Rome actioner “Gladiator” led to studios chasing the same highs. A string of high-budget period action films were greenlit in its wake such as Wolfgang Petersen’s Greek epic “Troy” (loosely based on the Iliad), Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” and Oliver Stone’s ambitious but ultimately messy “Alexander.” Stone wasn’t the only established filmmaker that attempted to tell the story of the ancient Macedonian general and king, Alexander The Great.
Back in 2002, Australian director Baz Luhrmann (“Elvis”) teamed with producer Dino de Laurentiis to shoot his own competing Alexander The Great film in Morocco that would have reunited him with his “Romeo + Juliet” star Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. Both Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox were set to back the project that Luhrmann had been nurturing for ten years. Ultimately, it fell apart before its planned production.
READ MORE: ‘Elvis’ Review: Baz Luhrmann Turns Raw, Gyrating Machismo Into Charisma That’s Just Loud [Cannes]
Luhrmann recently spoke on the Happy Sad Confused podcast (listen below), his abandoned epic was brought up and the filmmaker explained the reason he deserted the project after years and years of research.
“[Dino de Laurentiis] built a studio for the film in Morocco for the films, but what happens is I’m already down the road on it, but honestly, it became one of those things where …[Oliver Stone] wanted to do [his version] and I’m not a racer,” he explained, about the rush to be the first film in theaters to tell this story at the time.” I can’t work like that. Plus [My wife and I] wanted to have kids, it became a moment where I was like, ‘I have to draw a line here.’”
The director revealed that he wanted fellow Aussie Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”) to play Alexander’s father, confirming a nearly two-decades-old casting report.
“I mean it was a great cast…at one stage Mel Gibson was going to be the father, the king, the mad king,” he continued.
Of course, all of this was years before Gibson’s drunken meltdown arrest and domestic abuse allegations. Hiring Gibson, at the time, still would have been a bit odd given Variety had reported the Oscar-winning director was developing his own Alexander The Great project at HBO: a 10-part miniseries budgeted at a hefty $120 million that was being compared to “Band of Brothers” in scope.
“I had to draw a line and it took a very long time to get over. Funny enough we were trying to get pregnant and I was very, very pregnant with this story.” And note, while Luhrmann didn’t say it in this podcast, an old excerpt from Dino de Laurentis’ book “Dino: The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis,” says Martin Scorsese was trying to develop an Alexander The Great film with DiCaprio too at one point.
The roles of Alexander’s parents in Stone’s version were portrayed by Val Kilmer (“Heat”) and Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie (“Girl, Interrupted”). The two were arguably too young for those roles considering that a 28-year-old Colin Farrell played the lead role. Jolie being the same age as her “son” certainly made it harder to be convincing at the time.
The director’s most recent film, “Elvis,” is now in theaters. You can listen to the whole podcast conversation below.
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