Returning to Faraway Downs: Baz Luhrmann retells his 2008 film Australia as a series

LOS ANGELES – Now airing on Disney+, the new six-part drama Faraway Downs stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in a story the actors and writer-director Baz Luhrmann first told 15 years ago.

This is because the show is an extended version of their 2008 film Australia, a sweeping epic romance set during World War II.

Like the movie, the series follows an English aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman), as she takes over her late husband’s cattle ranch in the Australian outback.

But to save it from falling into the wrong hands, she is forced to work with a rugged cowboy figure known only as The Drover (Jackman).

In an interview with The Straits Times, Luhrmann says he, Kidman and Jackman – who are all Australian – were excited to revisit the story, which will be told using scenes from the original film along with previously unseen footage and additional dialogue recorded by the stars.

And it was a trip down memory lane to all the highs and lows of making Australia.

“We all have memories of what an extraordinary time it was,” the 61-year-old film-maker says.

“We went through so many dramatic obstacles – like it raining for the first time in a hundred years (in that part of the outback).

“But there were beautiful things too, like Nicole getting pregnant towards the end of it. And it was such a magical moment for her,” Luhrmann says of his 56-year-old leading lady, who that year gave birth to the first of her two daughters.

They are now aged 15 and 13, and she shares them with her Australian singer-husband Keith Urban, 56.

No new footage was filmed for Faraway Downs, but Kidman and Jackman, 55, were “ready to just jump on and do the voices” for additional dialogue to accompany some of the unseen footage, Luhrmann says.

And Kidman – who won a Best Actress Oscar for the biographical drama The Hours (2002) – and Jackman, who played Wolverine in the X-Men superhero films from 2000 to 2017, were both able to precisely recreate how they sounded 15 years ago.

“Both of them were working in heavy accent – Hugh’s got this extremely broad, Aussie cowboy sound, and Nicole was English,” Luhrmann says.

“But the great thing about actors is they can listen to themselves and reproduce their own voices from that many years ago.”

The film-maker, who also helmed musical movies such as Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Elvis (2022), says the new series allowed him to do much more with the story.

“The film is like a meal, but we really made an epic banquet (with the show).

“There were so many areas of storytelling and things we’d shot that we weren’t able to do (in the film).”

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It helped that Luhrmann and his team had captured a staggering amount of footage for the movie – 2.5 million feet or 762,000m, a record for Kodak film.

Faraway Downs was thus able to craft a different ending and focus more on Nullah (Brandon Walters), the half-Aboriginal, half-white child who lives on the ranch and whose character represents Australia’s “stolen generations” – indigenous children forcibly removed from their families by the government.

It is, of course, rare for any film-maker to get to retell one of his own movies this way.

returning to faraway downs: baz luhrmann retells his 2008 film australia as a series

Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in Faraway Downs. PHOTO: DISNEY+

And Luhrmann got to do so only because when he was shooting Elvis in 2020, American star Tom Hanks, now 67, famously contracted Covid-19 and brought production to a halt.

“Blame Tom Hanks,” Luhrmann jokes. “Because, suddenly, I didn’t know if the film (Elvis) would come back.”

So the director returned to Australia and went into lockdown, and during that time of contemplation, he thought of his 2008 film.

“And I remembered that my original intention was to take an old-fashioned melodrama and romance, but put this quite horrific truth of the history of our country and the stolen generations at the centre of it.

“When I started to look at the material, I realised just how much more I could lean into that thematic idea,” Luhrmann adds.

returning to faraway downs: baz luhrmann retells his 2008 film australia as a series

(From left) Australian film director Baz Luhrmann, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful at the Vogue World: London event at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in September. PHOTO: AFP

And unlike in 2008, there were now streaming platforms that could allow such long-form stories to breathe.

“So I had the material to do an episodic, epic telling that I never really could do in that one sitting,” he says.

“That was really the drive. It actually suits it.”

  • Faraway Downs is showing on Disney+.
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