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Another Australian film director hits paydirt in Hollywood, with Legally Blonde, a romantic comedy that breaks through the dross – but it took there years of searching through scripts to find it, director Robert Luketic tells Andrew L. Urban.

Robert Luketic spent a sleepless night before the first day of shooting Legally Blonde; "I was terrified," he says now looking quite unterrified beside the pool at the Royal Pines Resort on The Gold Coast, on the eve of the film’s Australian release. "There were 200 people on the set . . ." Somewhat more than he was used to at film school in Melbourne (at the VCA).

"But then as it went on, that army of people and the whole process became somehow liberating – I was able to focus on directing and not have to worry about anything else. And while there were always limits and bounds, that’s just what it was like at film school. They taught us well. I soon realised I was working just as I had always done…"

But it wasn’t his film schooling alone that propelled Luketic: it was his striking short film, Titsiana Booberini, which got him noticed at festivals like Sundance. (Titsiana Booberini is about a ridiculed check-out chick with a moustache whose life changes when she dicovers hair remover.)

"I’m unashamedly a commercial filmmaker,"

Luketic, now 30, had waited three years for the success of his short film to turn into gold. Legally Blonde, which has taken over US$100 million at the American box office before its Australian release, was just one of hundreds of scripts that had been sent to him since Titsiana Booberini screened at Sundance. (And he has kept them all!) "I’m unashamedly a commercial filmmaker," he says, "and I was looking for a breakthrough film. Not that I expected it to be a $100 million breakthrough! And now I’m being allowed to read scripts that I wasn’t before. Big budget films. . . ." His next film will be something very different - may be a science fiction action number, he says with a cheeky grin.

Legally Blonde is the funny and sometimes touching story of Elle Woods. Dumped by prospective law student Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) as a liability for her lack of seriousness that would damage his prestige law career, Elle (Reese Witherspoon) sets out to get into Harvard Law School to prove she is more than a blonde bimbo.

"It’s silly and irrelevant and is a picture of heightened reality," says Luketic unassumingly, "but sometimes it gets real." And that’s why it works; the film manages the balance between having something serious to say (always be true to yourself) and having some fun with blondes. Reese Witherspoon’s sensational performance makes the film the success it is – without wishing to take away from Luketic’s direction. "Ah look, we all worked very closely and with mutual respect," he says. "I always listened. I’m not a dictator on the set and I didn’t try to make MY movie, They’re all very talented people and my job was to bring it out of them."

That’s why Luketic "knew on page five of the script that I wanted Reese to play Elle. We met at a hotel on Sunset Boulevrad and discussed the film . . .we were both concerned about some aspects, like how can the audience feel sorry for a rich girl driving a Porsche; and she had to dress in a very particular way that wasn’t distracting or offputting… And every decision came from a certain innocence [of the character]."

'Things develop in ways you can’t anticipate'

The end result came after "something like 10 drafts of the script. I worked with the writers (Kirsten Smith, Karen McCullah Lutz, working from Amanda Brown’s novel) who stayed on after we started shooting," says Luketic. "And we’d have re-thinks and re-writes, often in the middle of the night. I remember Jane Campion coming to the VCA to lecture and saying that a film was like a baby that needs feeding and nurturing. Things develop in ways you can’t anticipate."

Published October 11, 2001

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