The Robert Luketic story is already well-known around Hollywood. It is now set to be repeated many times by the talented young Australian director as he conducts worldwide publicity for his debut feature Legally Blonde, which opened at the top of the US box office, winning a popular vote of $20.4m despite surprisingly lacklustre reviews.
In short, it goes like this. Having completed his first film, a 10-minute short musical called Titsiana Booberini at the Victoria College Of The Arts' School Of Film And Television in Melbourne, Australia, Luketic got some temporary work manning reception at the Australian Film Commission. 'I needed a job,' he said. When calls for entries came across his desk for various US film festivals, he enterprisingly took down the details and sent Titsiana off. His first break came when the short - a delicious story of a hirsuit supermarket checkout girl and her dreams of romance - was invited to the 1997 Telluride film festival. As if that wasn't good enough, it was also selected for the Sundance film festival the following January.
In the first few months of 1998 Luketic relocated to Los Angeles, having clinched a three-picture deal at Miramax Films which included a feature-length version of Titsiana, and a deal to direct The Mile High Club, a comedy about a prostitution ring in the sky, for Working Title Films.
If it sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of, then there is a catch: Luketic struggled to get anything going. 'Between the cast and getting the script ready, the variables are so many in Hollywood that it makes the mission of making the movie almost impossible,' he says. 'It's just not that easy.' The Mile High Club wasn't coming together and Luketic was getting offered 'teen comedies with fart jokes' and little else. He changed agencies from UTA to CAA and was close to extreme frustration when Legally Blonde came his way.
'I had taken a general meeting with Marc Platt [the Universal-based producer and himself former president of Universal] a year earlier and we had talked about various things. Subsequently, he bought Legally Blonde, developed it and had taken it to MGM. When he came to me with it, I liked it a lot and I thought it should be Reese Witherspoon in the lead role. He agreed and we met with MGM.'
Luketic had a short meeting with MGM studio chief Chris McGurk and MGM Pictures president Michael Nathanson in which he impressed them with his instinct about the script. 'They said why don't I do my first feature with them,' he recalls. At last Luketic was to go into production on a film, which, despite 'moments of extreme anxiety' went smoothly. 'It was an exhilarating 50-day rollercoaster,' he says. 'MGM and I never argued. Because I'm a first-time director, I didn't have final cut but the suggestions they made were to the benefit of the film. I'm very open. I want to be perceived as someone who is easy to work with and collaborative.'
Legally Blonde itself has had successful previews and strong word-of-mouth as much as for Luketic's light touch as for Witherspoon's star-making comic performance. 'There is no science to it,' explains Luketic. 'Things you would find funny on set would fall flat with an audience, things that you take forever to shoot, which were truly tortuous to film, would get the biggest laugh.'
But then again, if he is a dab hand at comedy, he joins a club of Australian comic talents like PJ Hogan (Muriel's Wedding), Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) and Stephan Elliott (The Adventures Of Priscilla...) who have transferred their unique aesthetic from Australia to the US. 'I think that Australian film-makers are so geographically isolated that they use that as a platform,' he says. 'We're constantly looking at what the rest of the world is doing. The comedy perspective that comes from that is very honest and raw.'
Australia will be a highlight on the worldwide promotion of the film, with Luketic and Witherspoon scheduled to touch down there sometime in September or October. 'We'll go to Sydney. Some of the networks and newspapers have followed my story but of course the reality proved to be somewhat different than the fairytale.'
Therefore the challenge for Luketic is, as he says, to 'keep working. I want to make movies more grounded in reality than this one. I want to make an epic, a thriller, lots of different types. Directing is what I want to do and I've been focused on doing this since I was 15.'