Demystifying the person behind the legend: Baz Luhrmann, Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge on bringing ‘Elvis’ to life

Austin Butler


Movie aficionados greeted the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” at this yr’s Cannes Movie Competition with explosive applause and a 12-minute standing ovation—with good cause.

The acclaimed movie is as a lot a sensational showcase of prodigious expertise and musicality as it’s a harrowing story of abuse all wrapped into the life story of the bestselling solo recording artist of all time: Elvis Presley.

After watching the gripping two-hour and 39-minute film, which opens in Philippine cinemas this Wednesday, viewers gained’t be capable to hearken to “Unchained Melody,” “Can’t Assist Falling in Love,” “Hound Canine” and different enduring Presley hits the identical method once more.

On the coronary heart of this music-enhanced drama is the connection that unravels between Elvis (Austin Butler in a career-boosting portrayal) and his “enigmatic” supervisor, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, nearly unrecognizable in an Oscar-worthy vanishing act).

It’s an advanced relationship as seen via the lens of Col. Parker, set in opposition to the backdrop of the evolving cultural panorama on the time—from the postwar Nineteen Fifties to the chaotic “Me Decade” of the ’70s.

Even because it captures the essence of Elvis’ electrifying presence and persona, it additionally manages to demystify the flawed and delicate man behind the rubber-legged, hip-swiveling legend.

We have been as thrilled as Baz and his forged—composed of Austin (Elvis), Olivia DeJonge (Priscilla Presley), Alton Mason (Little Richard), Yola (Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (BB King)—once we attended the digital press con held final Tuesday simply steps away from the Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee.

Baz, who’s the genius behind indelible display screen classics like “Strictly Ballroom,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge!,” mentioned that he needed to discover larger concepts by the use of Elvis’ nice life and music.

“The movie is extra than simply the story of Elvis,” the 59-year-old director mentioned. “He’s had such an amazing life to make use of in our exploration of America within the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s—and even the place we at the moment are.

“But it surely’s as a lot concerning the dynamic of that relationship between Elvis and Col. Tom. It’s about present and enterprise… about administration and management and exploitation… about reality and creativity within the soul. I feel lots of that is occurring on this planet immediately.”

Director Baz Luhrmann (left) on the set with Olivia DeJonge (as Priscilla Presley) and Butler

Director Baz Luhrmann (left) on the set with Olivia DeJonge (as Priscilla Presley) and Butler

Requested to elucidate the movie’s distinctive perspective by opting to inform Elvis’ story via the prism of Col. Tom, Baz mentioned, “On this extraordinary story, you’ve a two-hander between Elvis and a personality that most individuals would possibly consider because the villain. However right here, Col. Tom argues that he’s not the dangerous man—which provides the movie an incredible dramatic stress. It means that you can go to locations you wouldn’t go in any other case and reveal issues that you just wouldn’t be capable to reveal.

“It helps us discover the bigger concept that explains Elvis’ soul, having come from such humble beginnings, carrying with him the disgrace of his father Vernon (Richard Roxburgh), the lack of his mom Gladys (Helen Thomson)—which created this huge gap [in his] coronary heart.

“Why did this tragedy occur? Everybody says, ‘Oh, you assume it was me? His evil supervisor was simply exploiting for cash.” However what Col. Tom says all through the movie is, “ what? All I did was do my job!”

“There’s a narrative that’s not within the film, which takes place when Elvis dies: When the colonel hears the unhappy information, the very first thing he does is choose up the telephone and says, ‘Print extra information!’—which was met with annoyance. Gee, what a coldhearted man!

“However the colonel solutions, ‘Yeah, however you needed to promote extra information, didn’t you? I’m simply doing what you need! Like, as quickly as an icon dies, all of us wish to rush out and hearken to his music. So I’m maintaining him alive for you!’

“As you may see, it’s an advanced relationship… between artwork and commerce. And it’s one of the crucial extraordinary tales from that period in America.”

Cinematic feast

A vital component to this extraordinary cinematic feast and fusion of music and drama is Austin’s crackerjack efficiency, which ought to catapult the actor to the Oscar derby subsequent yr.

Whereas Austin doesn’t look as “broodingly fairly” because the so-called “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” the 30-year-old American did every part he might to snugly slip into Elvis’ pores and skin and seize his essence.

Previous to being forged within the title position, he spent 5 months growing the character to make himself the strongest contender for the half. He then reached out to Baz to audition for the position by submitting a video of himself enjoying the piano and singing the favored music “Unchained Melody,” which Elvis had coated in 1977—the identical yr the celebrated singer-actor died of a coronary heart assault, “doubtless introduced on by his dependancy to prescription barbiturates.”

Butler (left) with Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as BB King)

Butler (left) with Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as BB King)

In “Elvis,” Austin dons over 90 costumes. In Tom Hanks’ case, his hair, make-up and prosthetics groups spent between three and 5 hours a day, relying on how outdated the character wanted to be for the day’s shoot.

However how did Austin put together for the daunting process of bringing Elvis to life?

“I had these two years the place I didn’t do anything however simply obsess over the position. Primarily, I simply adopted the place my curiosity would take me each day. I had the best folks round me—Polly Bennett was my unbelievable motion coach [who also worked with Rami Malek in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’]. Then, there’s my dialect coach, singing coach and karate teacher—we did lots of that work.

“I attempted to be as meticulous as doable, however on the finish of the day, what was most essential was discovering Elvis’ humanity. What I used to be most fascinated by was stripping away the icon, shaking off the caricatures and the Halloween costumes of Elvis, and getting right down to who he was when he’s in an empty room by himself on the finish of the day.

“How did Elvis get up within the morning? What was the internal lifetime of this extremely delicate and non secular man. It was about discovering out how he developed through the years. That was type of my course of.”

However an actor can’t undergo one thing so rigorous with out it affecting you or altering your perspective.

“Sure. So, so far as what caught with me… my relationship to concern has modified so much due to the quantity of stress I felt throughout this entire course of,” Austin admitted. “I imply, it was such an enormous accountability. I used to be scared that I used to be going to fail him, his legacy or his household… and all of the followers all over the world who love him a lot. There was an excessive amount of accountability to really feel concern every day.

“However then, there was additionally an excellent lesson in it… as a result of Elvis additionally felt concern! He had moments the place his profession was on the road, like that episode in 1968. There have been many moments in his life like that, the place he talks about his personal stage fright. So, I might at all times relaxation in the truth that Elvis did really feel concern, but he was in a position to do extraordinary issues.

“One other large factor for me is to have the ability to sit subsequent to Kelvin, Yola and Alton right here. Elvis’ relationship with their characters places his life in context. The truth that we wouldn’t have Elvis with out Black music, that’s actually giving credit score the place credit score is due.”

Mad genius

For Olivia, who turns in an affecting—and affectionate—depiction of Priscilla Presley, working with Baz was the cherry on high of a scrumptious appearing project.

“Baz definitely is that this stunning, mad genius with this loopy quantity of inspiration, curiosity and dedication,” the Australian actress mentioned. “I liked sitting in that house with a person who’s unapologetically himself, at all times asking questions and at all times very open. I took lots of inspiration from that.”

Discussing Priscilla’s journey from her perspective—from being a newlywed, to turning into the lady who lastly places herself first—the actress mentioned that creating the character was no stroll within the park.

“Completely not,” she quipped. “Once we meet Priscilla [in the film], she’s this shiny younger lady who will get thrown into the attractive chaos that’s Elvis’ life. Marriage is tough… though I personally have but to expertise marriage… however not to mention once you’re married to essentially the most well-known man on this planet!

“Then, we see her getting examined as a younger lady and mom, and her capability to provide was expanded method past what she thought doable. So, it solely is smart that after their expertise collectively, to not point out his infidelities and all the following drama, Priscilla did step ahead and eventually mentioned, “Sufficient is sufficient! I additionally must take care of myself.”

So you may think about what a reduction it was for Olivia and the remainder of the “Elvis” crew to listen to that Priscilla liked the movie.

“All people went, ‘Whoa, OK!,’ recalled Olivia. “I’m so joyful that she’s joyful. All people labored so exhausting, so the truth that she has given the movie two thumbs up is absolutely nice.” INQ

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