After nearly eight years of development and production, visionary Aussie director Baz Luhrmann has finally offered a glimpse of his highly-anticipated biopic about Elvis Presley, and it’s fair to say the movie’s first trailer has fans all shook up.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Austin Butler scored the titular gig in Elvis, and the trailer reveals the 30-year-old Californian actor is no slouch when it comes to imitating the King’s iconic snake-hipped stage moves.
And, if this sneak peek is anything to go by, his singing voice ain’t half bad either.
But fans might be surprised to see Tom Hanks’ transformation to play Presley’s enigmatic and Svengali-like manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
The movie appears to have Hanks playing against type, with the trailer opening with narration from Parker, informing the audience that, “there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story”.
From there we are treated to snippets from the film, which was shot in Queensland in 2020 and spans a 20-year period from Presley’s first concerts to the singer achieving an unprecedented and frankly unimaginable level of fame.
It also stars former PLC student Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, and fellow Perth actors Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things) and Kate Mulvany, a Helpmann Award winner.
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The trailer confirms this will be no dusty, old history lesson, with the movie displaying Luhrmann’s lavish aesthetic and flair for the dramatic.
But the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby is quick to point out Elvis is about much more than just its namesake.
“The truth is, that in this modern era, the life of Elvis Presley could not be a better canvas on which to explore America in the 50s, the 60s and the 70s,” Luhrmann told The West Australian.
However, to translate Presley’s story to a modern audience, the director said Butler’s characterisation of the singer had to be more than simply an impersonation.
After all, there’s no shortage of Elvis impersonators out there.
“What tribute artists do, is they basically go, ‘How like that actual performance is that’; it’s almost like a sport, and, in fact, in Memphis, it is a sport, people get scored on it,” the director explained.
“That’s one whole thing, great respect to that, but that isn’t about … getting inside the soul of a human being.
“So, we came up with an unusual language, a musical language for the film, and that is 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, you know, when you hear In the Ghetto, it’s Elvis.”
As for Butler, he spent the year before filming commenced with dialect coaches, working seven days a week to perfect the King’s trademark southern drawl.
“But, ultimately, the life is what is important, and what we sort of realised is you can impersonate somebody, but to find the life within, and the passion and the heart, I had to release myself from the constraints of (imitation), and try to live the life as truthfully as possible,” the actor said.
One of the biggest challenges for Luhrmann was conveying just how dangerous Elvis was to the establishment in the 1950s, especially to a modern audience desensitised by Cardi B music videos.
“He is the original punk in some regards … he was wildly provocative … you know, there really were riots,” the director said.
“I cannot overstate how strange he looked, and how shocking he was, so how do we translate strange and shocking to a contemporary audience?”
As you’d expect, music plays a huge role in telling Presley’s story, but Luhrmann said the movie is more than just a jukebox of the King’s beloved hits.
The Romeo + Juliet director has always been drawn to larger-than-life characters who seemed doomed to meet tragic ends.
So, who better to tell the story of Elvis Presley, who was the embodiment of the American Dream only to become a bona fide national tragedy.
Elvis is in cinemas on June 23.