On the day of Austin Butler’s final screen test for “Elvis,” director Baz Luhrmann threw everything at him.
Butler had spent five months up until that moment, rehearsing the song with Luhrmann playing roles, doing hair and makeup tests. Against the odds, Butler had emerged as an unlikely favorite, taking on more established names like Harry Styles, Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort. But it was not official yet.
And during the screen test Luhrmann turned the script over. Some of the scenes drawn by Butler went out the window. In others, Luhrmann feeds him lines from behind the camera. One minute of “suspicious mind” was extended to six, performing Butler in a Presley jumpsuit.
“I went home and I really thought: ‘I don’t think I get that. I felt like my hands were tied behind my back,'” Butler said in a recent interview.
A week later in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old actor got a call. Luhrmann was calling from Australia.
“I look at the phone and go, ‘Okay, this is the moment,'” Butler says. “I picked up the phone and he was so dramatic and disappointed. He goes, ‘Austin, I just wanted to be the first to call you and say… are you ready to fly, Mr. Presley?'”
When “Elvis” Opening in theaters Friday, it will resurrect one of the most iconic figures in American music in one of the biggest, most dazzling movies of all time, trying to capture the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And it would propel Butler, an Orange County, Calif., original best known for playing Tex Watson in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” on a much bigger stage.
“It all sounds like this wonderful dream,” Butler said the morning after the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival., “I have to take a few moments to take a deep breath and say, ‘This is real life.'”
It hasn’t always been easy to discern what’s real and what’s fake in the overgrown land of the much-anticipated Elvis. “Elvis,” which Luhrmann co-screened, doesn’t take a standard biopic scene of Presley. But tells its story through Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), a former carnival barker who guided Presley to stardom but exploited and manipulated him until Presley’s death in 1977 . Parker narrates the story, adding a dimension about nature to show business and performance.
“Baz said on the very first meeting, ‘Look, this is a story of two people. There would never have been Elvis without Colonel Tom Parker, and, in his own mind, there would never have been Colonel Tom Parker without Elvis,'” says Hanks. . “As soon as he said it, I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be new ground, and more worthy of the hawk-maximalist-confetti-strewn style of moviemaking.
And, like “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge,” “Elvis” is actually an extravagant, maximalist hawk-style flick. As you’d expect, this Mississippi-born Memphis singer’s life and jukebox of songs meander through key moments. But “Elvis” also paints a more youthful, rebellious portrait of Presley as the product of Black Gospel music, a hip-shaking sex symbol in eyeliner and a progressive-minded non-conformist whose finely controlled career then went on. Reflects the cultural battle of now. Butler is an electric Elvis, not a campy nostalgia act, with more Bowie than you might expect.
“I’m not here to tell the world that Elvis is a great man. I’ll tell you what he is to me,” Luhrmann says. “Everyone has their own Elvis.”
Luhrmann, creator of the modern-day “Romeo + Juliet”, says, “My job is usually to take things that are either boring or old-fashioned or not relevant and remove the rust, and rewrite them. Is.” “Not to replace them, just to translate them again so that their value exists once again.”
Presley’s value to contemporary audiences, while still far beyond that of most of his contemporaries, has faded somewhat. To many, he represents the appropriation of black music. Some relatively recent productions – the 2005 Broadway musical “All Shook Up”, Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis Show in Las Vegas – largely failed to catch on.
Which meant that Butler had a lot on his shoulders. For that, it was necessary to find ways to make Presley more human than the supernatural. A resonant connection for the actor was learning that Presley’s mother had died at the age of 23, the same age Butler lost his mother. And like the initially timid artist, Presley, Butler grew shy.
Butler says, “I could then go on: ‘When I’m scared and I feel like all the pressure is on me and I’m afraid of falling in my face,’ she felt those things.” “So I could go on: ‘It’s okay to feel scared. That’s how you channel it.'”
“Elvis” is most moving in its second part in the Vegas section of the film, when Presley was often reaching artistic heights on stage during his run at the International Hotel in 1969–1976, but was increasingly stymied by Parker (who Presley had refused to tour internationally) and drug use. Priscilla Presley, who has enthusiastically supported the film, is played by Olivia DeJong.
“A lot of the characters in this movie are larger than life, and authentically larger than life,” DeJong says. “With Priscilla, I wanted to make sure she felt grounded and more like Elvis’ breath so that she would be at ease whenever she was with him.”
Before “Elvis” began shooting in Memphis, Hanks had dinner with Priscilla Presley, who then described her ex-husband as “an artist as unique as Picasso and as popular as Charlie Chaplin.” described, who really only felt himself and really at home when he was singing.”
While a more villainous role represents a rare departure for Hanks — who tested positive for the coronavirus during the film’s Australia shoot, an indelible early pandemic moment — “Elvis” is also typical of the actor in that it is a departure from American history. Battles and Drama exists as a standalone. “Elvis” will primarily compete with franchise installments in theaters this summer.
“The concept of the franchise is now so much a part of the entertainment industrial complex that for me, I don’t think it’s much fun,” Hanks says. “Everyone knows I’ve been doing this for a very long time so I think they’ll have as much confidence that they’ll get all three acts from me, and then they’ll decide whether it was worth watching or not.”
Reviews for “Elvis” have been largely positive. But they are shining for Butler. (In the film, he sings some songs while others use Presley’s voice.) The actor believes that he devoted two years of his life to the film, researching Presley obsessively and gradually Changed it. Butler used to think through daily routines to see how Presley did them. When the film wrapped, Butler struggled to let go.
“All of a sudden it was me brushing my teeth, now it’s me doing these mundane things. It was a real existential crisis when I finished,” Butler says. “The next morning, I woke up and I couldn’t walk. could. I thought my appendix had burst. It was the most excruciating pain in my stomach, so they took me to the emergency room. It’s wild how your body can hold on for the duration of doing something. ,
The first major scene, shot by Butler on the second day of production, was specially taped by Presley of his momentous return. The scene saw a leather-bound butler isolated on stage, who had little to rely on in his ability to thrill the crowd. Her nerves almost overwhelmed her.
Butler says, “But the horror of my whole career like it was riding on this movie, that was exactly how Elvis felt.” “His music career was on the line. It was make or break for him. So I could relax in that. Then I went out there and it was like having an out-of-body experience.”
Follow Associated Press Film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP