CANNES – Following its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival the reviews for Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” are in. So far most critics have raved about Austin Butler’s performance as the King of Rock and Roll and complicated Luhrmann’s staging of the movie’s musical performances. As for Tom Hanks turn as Elvis’ longtime corrupt manager Col. Tom Parker? Well, the world’s favorite movie dad can’t win them all. To Luhrmann, however, there was only one review he truly cared about, the opinion of Elvis’ ex-wife, former CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises and a character in the film, Priscilla Presley.
Luhrmann says he showed the film to Priscilla after the third or fourth cut before all the many visual effects were done and it was one of the longest two hours of his life. When he arrived to the screening room he says there was a security guard with Priscilla who was crying and I asked ‘Why, what’s going on?’ And it was because of Priscilla’s state [following the screening].
Eventually, Presley wrote the filmmaker a note. He recalls it saying, “‘I am sorry I took so long. I had to gather myself.’ And I think I can say this because she said it. She said, ‘I just wasn’t ready for that.’ Every breath about Austin. The way he moved. The spirit, the purpose of the person, the humanity, the man, the icon, not the guy in the trashy book. Not the person they think they know because they have made it up in the air. And she said, ‘If my husband was here today he would say, ‘Hot damn, you are me.”
Presley and Elvis daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, also signed off on the film which clearly meant the world to the “Moulin Rouge!” maestro.
“It was important to them. He was a father. He was a husband. And a grandfather. A person. And they have children and their children will have children,” Luhrmann says. “And the greatest review is from them saying ‘And now there is something they can look to which, in their view, is the truth of the humanity of the man.’ So, that will be the best review I’ve ever had.”
Butler has already had a long career in Hollywood, but is hardly a household name. That may change after “Elvis” hits theaters next month.
“There has never been a person who I have loved as much as Elvis,” Butler says. “I’ve lived with him for three years so the feeling of doing him justice and justice to his legacy and really bring life to this extraordinary man and to make this movie and Priscilla and the entire family proud? I cannot be more overjoyed and I feel over the moon over that.”
The 30-year-old actor and singer admits he put unrealistic expectations on himself when he first started rehearsing for the role. He wanted to do everything possible to make his face and eyes look like the legendary singer’s but soon realized that would be like going to a wax museum. Instead, he focused on making Elvis’ soul come out through his performance. And that meant endless research. For example, there was Elvis performance on the Milton Berle Show in 1956 performing “Hounddog.”
“I watched one second of this clip over and over and over. I would look at what his eye was doing. The angle of his head. I would look at what his hand was doing and try to find that exactly and practice that until it was in my marrow,” Butler says. “And then the tricky thing is being able to be there on the day and like it’s happening for the first time and that it’s spontaneous and actually alive. The reason why he moved in that way and why he spoke in that way. That meant finding his inner being. But then it’s like spinning plates. You want to go back to the specifics. So it was this constant back and forth. Someone asked me yesterday ‘Did you watch playback?’ And I said there were certain moments like when watching Hounddog where we did one take and I then I went back and watched it and thought ‘Oh, what’s wrong?’ I was doing too much. And just strip it back, strip it back.”
One aspect of the film that has puzzled most viewers so far is Hanks portrayal of Parker. Effectively an illegal alien in the United States for his entire life (something Elvis never knew till years after he became his manager), Parker was a former carney who basically conned Elvis and his family out of almost half his earnings. It’s perhaps the most transformative role Hanks has played since “Cloud Atlas” and he says he owes it all to Luhrmann.
The two-time Oscar winner recalls, “All I knew is that [I was told] Baz Luhrmann would like to talk to you about Elvis and all I thought was, ‘That would be a waste of time.’ When he came in he said there would have been no Elvis without Col. Tom Parker and there would have been no Col. Tom Parker without Elvis. I was a symbiotic relationship. I did not know what Col. Tom Parker looked like. I had never heard his voice. I thought it would be a tall, centurion guy in a hat full of bombs. Instead, he turned out to be a rather ingenious imp of the carnival who seemed to enjoy robbing a little kid out of an extra 25 cents for a photograph of Elvis just as much as he enjoyed robbing a casino in Vegas out of $25 million. It was the same exact pleasure he got. Not from the amount of money but the exchange. Baz talked about him as a great Carney. Knowing that the Carney’s job is to bring people to the glittering lights on the outside of town, promise them something they had never seen before and then almost give it to them. At a cost. And when he said that I think the conversation lasted seven minutes, ‘I’m your man. Now, show me a picture of what the Colonel looks like.’ And he showed me and I thought, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?'”
That’s certainly one way of putting it, Tom.