When The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann was looking to re-create the magic of the 1920s fictional town of seaside West Egg in New York’s Long Island, he found the perfect location in the remote, sleepy village of Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains. No mean feat at 1000 metres above sea level.
“Baz and CM” (wife Catherine Martin) would fly in by chopper and land at his property Breenhold, said owner Tom Breen, who in turn spent months “getting to know Baz quite well ... even watching that American football game, you know, Super Bowl with Leonardo DiCaprio” in the lounge room of his Mountains home.
“He (Leonardo) was pretty desperate to watch, he kept coming inside the house and they kept dragging him back out to shoot. I had a lot of fun.”
The movie which is now in Australian cinemas, shows the tree-lined avenues of the historic village, dry stone walling from local basalt and the roads where many of the famous car scenes took place. In fact some of the film’s best moments, involving love, intrigue and crazy vintage car chases all come courtesy of picturesque Mt Wilson.
The crew built the exterior of the cottage of writer Nick Carraway played by Tobey Maguire, Gatsby’s neighbour (the same house was built with the proper interior at Fox Studios) with Baz Luhrmann making sure that “there was enough room for the Duesenberg to turn” at Breenhold.
Breenhold is no stranger to movie sets. The majestic 45 hectare cold climate English-style gardens “got into the language of the film industry” after a recent documentary about Charles Darwin, but Mr Breen’s family was unprepared for the Hollywood star billing the Gatsby movie would bring.
“On the first day of filming here it was this gorgeous spring day and they decided they would do the movie’s one rain scene,” he said. The scene was when a nervous Gatsby (played by DiCaprio) meets his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) after a five year separation and Mr Breen said the company “purchased 100,000 litres of water from one of the dams” to make it happen.
“They had these huge rainmaking machines, it was literally pouring synthetically...then the next day it rained and the next and the next. They had a private weather guru who got it totally wrong.”
The wet summer of 2011 saw filming blow out by months. The shoot with 400 cast and crew was meant to take five days but started in October 2011 and continued on and off until February 2012.
Carraway’s cottage was built on the site around a tree and near a long stone wall, the portal between the world of the writer and his enigmatic neighbour Jay Gatsby.
“Baz fell in love with the wall, that was the archway they walked through,” Mr Breen points out as he poses for a photo for the Gazette.
A large screen was set-up to hide the Breen’s real home.
But fans hoping for a glimpse of that cottage will be disappointed — it was removed when the director called for the final cut.
Tom Breen, who spends weekdays in Balmoral, said his family loved the movie experience and the movie itself. He estimates about a fifth of the film features his beloved holiday village and he hopes Mt Wilson might see some spin-off in extra visitors thanks to the credit at the end of the film.
As does Mt Wilson Progress Association spokesman Tim Gow who said it was the biggest thing to happen to the 62 permanent residents of Mt Wilson for some time. Ten locals earned roles as extras in a crowd scene.
“If it’s not that it’s the [bush]fires ... [although] the other big one was the centenary of Patrick White’s birth, he lived here as a schoolboy and wrote letters to Sunday editors as a 10-year-old.”
However not all the village was enamoured by the experience.
Barry Byrne, who looked after the leading lady Carey Mulligan at his property Bebeah, found the movie and the Hollywood stars underwhelming.
It was alongside Mr Byrne’s large garden estate where some of the car scenes were filmed. Great lovers of the Gatsby lifestyle can purchase Bebeah for about $5 million.