It was an opportunity in life, the opportunity to play Elvis Presley in a biographical film directed by the dazzling director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge !, The Great Gatsby), and Austin Butler struggled to record his audition tape. The actor best known for his short life Sex and the city spinoff The Carrie diaries and small role in Once upon a time in Hollywood had undertaken to show Luhrmann that he could also sing, but the rendition of “Love Me Tender” he recorded sounded too much like a forgery.
“So I spent a few days and I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do,” Butler tells us during a recent virtual press conference for Elvis (see above). “And during this period I watch these documentaries; and that hit me like a freight train when I found out, that Elvis’s mom died when he was 23 years old. And he hit me so hard because he was exactly the same age I was when my mom died Έ Elvis feels so far away because you look at him this divine way or like a caricature or whatever. But for me at that moment, I realized what that sadness was like. “
After waking up from a nightmare that this mother was dying again from the beginning, Butler poured this common sense of sadness into a haunted cassette early in the morning of “Unchained Melody” performing with his bathrobe.
Luhrmann broke into pieces.
It was “almost mythical,” says the director. “This is the young man in the bathrobe playing the piano and crying to the skies. You can understand what Elvis’ spirit was like in him from the first moment. I just think he was destined to play the role. “
That’s why Luhrmann dropped Butler, 30, to other well-known contenders such as Harry Styles, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Butler cut the streams early on for the show, but it was an experience that seriously affected him. As the actor revealed shortly after the premiere of the film at the Cannes Film Festival, he was rushed to the hospital shortly after the completion of the film.
“My body just left the next day I finished,” said Butler, who was initially admitted with suspected appendicitis.
“He was pushing himself very hard,” admits Luhrmann.
“I visited him while he was in the hospital,” explains co-star Olivia DeJonge, who plays Elvis’ wife Priscilla. “You know, he really fell into that role and he really dedicated so many things to Elvis.”
Elvis follows the favorite musical idol from his childhood to his first performances until the end of his life, with an emphasis on his complicated relationship with the long-time manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who has long been accused of excessive Presley’s work and exploitation, which could have contributed to the singer’s death at the age of 42 in 1977.
The film also deals with a particularly complex aspect of Presley’s legacy: his relationship to black music and the idea that cultural appropriation played into his stratospheric rise at a time when African-American singers influenced him (and in many cases performed songs such as the “Hound Dog” first) could not enjoy the same heights of success.
“Elvis grew up in a hood,” says Alton Mason (who plays one of these artists, Little Richard), referring to the predominantly Black Memphis neighborhood where his family lived. “He grew up inside the hood, surrounded by blacks, in a period of separation.”
Mason and co-stars Yola Quartey (Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (BB King) argue that portraying the black artists who influenced Presley on Beale Street in the 1950s, Elvis honors their seismic contribution to American music.
“The real issue was that Elvis was a white kid who gets rich overnight,” says Luhrmann. “And it took until Michael Jackson [in the 1980s]Really, [until] Black artists earned condescending incomes from white artists.
“I hope the film incorporates it: No black music without Elvis.”
– The video is produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
Elvis opens on Friday.
Watch the trailer: