2022 is set to be the summer of ELVIS, when a new generation discovers the legend as one of the most anticipated Elvis biopics heads to the big screen, directed by musical impresario Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as The King, Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley’s statistics are impressive. He recorded 700 songs, had over 100 Top 40 hits, made thirty feature films, and has sold a staggering one billion records globally. Elvis’s personal life has been the subject of fascination from the first day he appeared on stage to his premature death at his home in Graceland, aged just 42. His story has been told dozens of times on film, stage, and television, but his popularity means there is always room for more Elvis stories.
WATCH THE TRAILER
The excitement for the film is such that a global press conference was held to launch the trailer and we were lucky enough to attend. Introduced by Luhrmann at the press conference, the trailer opened with a slow version of Suspicious Minds; even watching through the lens of a laptop, there was something haunting about hearing it.
Luhrmann says that telling Elvis’s story is as much about telling the story of the United States through three defining decades. “The life of Elvis Presley could not be a better canvas on which to explore America in the 50s, 60s and 70s. It is a mythical life that he lived. His 42 years are three great lives put into a short period of time. His life is culturally and socially at the centre of those decades.”
For Austin Butler, stepping into those iconic blue suede shoes was a monumental task, and he says it was about more than just playing an icon that attracted him to the role; it was about playing the man. “It was about getting to explore the humanity of somebody who has become the wallpaper of society. He is such an icon, and he’s held up to a superhuman status, so to get to explore that and learn why he was the way that he was and find the human within an icon, that was just such a joy. That paired with the fact that I get to work with one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live, this is a joy in my lifetime.”
The process of becoming Elvis meant that Butler worked six days a week with vocal coaches and experts to ensure that his singing voice matched with Elvis’s vocal range. It took over a year before filming began to reach Elvis’s registry, but Butler says that learning what was in Elvis’s heart was as important as getting his voice right. “I set out to get my voice to sound identical to Elvis. My goal is if you heard a recording of me and you heard a recording of him, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I got the fire burning inside me to work. I could go into the minutiae of that entire process, but ultimately, the life is what is important. You can impersonate somebody, but to find the life within and the passion and the heart, ultimately, I had to release myself from the constraints and try to live the life as truthfully as possible.”
Luhrmann says that early recordings of Elvis singing couldn’t be used in the film, so Butler sings for much of the film. In later scenes where we see an aged-up Butler, we hear a mix of Elvis’s own voice and Butler’s. “Early recordings from before the 60s, you can’t use in a film because they are recorded mono, and so they are nostalgic sounding. We came up with a musical language for the film that Austin would sing all the young Elvis, but from about the 60s on, we would blend it with the real Elvis, so when Elvis sings, `In the Ghetto, it’s Elvis’s voice.”
Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, is infamous for the troublesome way he treated the man, inserting himself into every aspect of Elvis’s life and controlling much of what he did. He has always been viewed as the villain in Elvis’s story, so the choice to cast perennial nice guy Tom Hanks as Parker is a surprising one. Luhrmann says that Hanks ran towards the opportunity to play against type, but also says that we will see a different side to Parker’s story in his film.
“The trailer opens with Parker telling a story from that character’s point of view. It’s a device because, in truth, when it comes to a historical character, there is only ever somebody telling that story. If you live with an Elvis, it is your memory, your version of their life. People always tell the story of someone else from a perspective that is their telling.”
The trailer has certainly whetted our appetite for Luhrmann ’s take on The King’s life.
Words – Cara O’Doherty
ELVIS arrives in Irish cinemas 24th June 2022
Photo Credit AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Hugh Stewart