Elvis Presley: Icon, Superstar, American Tragedy

By: Danielle Jarrell

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo by Hugh Stewart

Other than the buttery popcorn and selection of candy, I think the best part of going to the movies is watching the trailers. Typically, trailers are watched in a movie theater where different quiet conversations take place leading up to the actual movie. My most recent experience was anything like this. Instead, I sat in my makeshift home office awaiting the release of what I believe is going to be one of the biggest films of 2022. Elvis directed by Baz Luhrmann starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge and other award winning actors tells the story of America during the golden age of capitalism and civil rights movement through the lens of the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley. 

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis and TOM HANKS as Col. Tom Parker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo by Hugh Stewart

Director, Baz Luhrmann took three years to tell this story and he did it for many reasons. One of those reasons being he said that, “we set out to make a motion picture that’s gonna bring all kinds of audiences together” another being “great storytellers, like Shakespeare, never did biographies. They take a life and use it as a canvas to explore a larger idea.” That larger idea being an invitation for today’s audiences to explore America during the fifties, sixties, and seventies through the lens of Elvis Presley’s life. Luhrmann emphasized that when doing a true story the story of that person is “only ever somebody’s telling of that story.” Looking back on previous films by Luhrmann such as The Great Gatsby the story is about Jay Gatsby’s life but told through the perspective of Nick Carroway. In the case of this film, Elvis Presley’s life is being told through the lens of Colonel Tom Parker interpreted by Tom Hanks.  

Austin Butler who is interpreting Elvis Presley looks back on filming as the joy of his lifetime. Looking back on after he was cast to play Elvis he recalled “It really felt like when you were a kid and you put on your fathers suit and the sleeves are much too long and the shoes are like boats on your feet. How could I possibly do anything but feel less than this superhuman individual and as time passed I started to feel as I grew into it and felt his humanity more.” Being known for his acting abilities Butler was put to the test when he also was told the role would require singing. Laz Buhrmann went on to mention that the reason for why Austin sings in parts of the movie is due to the nostalgic sound from the sixties and because he didn’t want a karaoke version of Elvis. Instead the two created their own musical language in which all scenes shot in the fifties is Butler’s singing voice and as the decades continue the real Elvis singing is blended.

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo by Hugh Stewart

Butler mentioned that in order to achieve his goal in sounding identical to Elvis Presley he started working with a voice, dialect and movement coach almost seven days a week. In this process he went onto explain how holding a goal this high can instill fear. Butler emphasized that he learned in accepting this role specifically that, “you can impersonate somebody but to find the life within and the passion and the heart to live the life as truthfully as possible is the ultimate goal.” As far as movement Butler praised his movement coach Polly Bennett who also worked previously on Bohemian Rhapsody help him perfect his dancing and gestures. On the other hand in finding research to tell this story Buhrmann didn’t know how spiritual Elvis was. Austin explained that in the months approaching filming he took a trip with Buhrmann to Nashville so they could step into Elvis’ shoes. What some might not know about Elvis is that his musical roots began at church and gospel was his favorite genre of music. 

A memorable moment Butler mentioned was, “We [Butler and Luhrmann] walked into this little chapel with 30 of the most incredible gospel singers and they were stomping their feet and I was standing down the middle and tears just poured down my face and I got chills down my spine.” Growing up in the early 1940’s Elvis lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Tupelo, Mississippi. Luhrmann mentioned meeting people in the area who knew Elvis and they all told him his formula to the way he sang and danced stemmed from singing gospel songs. Luhrmann continued stating, “The number one thing about Elvis Presley’s journey is black music and culture isn’t a side note or a footnote or a bit. it’s absolutely the canvas on which the story is write.” Both Butler and Luhrmann feeling proud of this film equally feel as responsible in telling this story truthfully not only to Elvis and his life but also Priscilla Presley, daughters, and family.

Elvis is available to watch in a cinema near you, June 24, 2022. 


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