The first trailer for ELVIS has arrived in all its musical wonderment, and yes, that’s actor Austin Butler singing, dancing and embodying the man, the myth and the legend.
ELVIS is the most anticipated musicals of the year and will surely be as polarizing as its subject. Written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, the incredible filmmaker behind hits such as 2013’s The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and (my favorite) Romeo + Juliet, is taking on The King himself in what is set to be one of the biggest musicals and richly complicated story in years.
As Butler’s Elvis comes on the scene and gives a rousing performance, Parker’s attention is caught by the young singer’s talent. “Are you born with destiny? Or does it just come knocking at your door?” Parker says. “At that moment, I watched that skinny boy transform into a superhero. He was my destiny.”
Speaking to a young Presley, Parker tells him, “I wish to promote you, Mr. Presley. Are you ready to fly?” Smiling, Presley says, “I’m ready, ready to fly.” But as Presley’s career launches to incredible heights, he also faces controversy for his performance style and outrageous dance moves in 1950s America.
“Some people want to put me in jail, the way I was moving,” Presley reflects. “I can’t move, I can’t sing.”
The trailer shows Presley desperately attempting to reconnect with his origins in gospel music, saying, “I’m almost 40 and nobody’s going to remember me. I need to get back to who I really am. This could all be over in a flash.”
In addition to Butler and Hanks, the movie stars Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley as the film promises to delve into their complex dynamic spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and the loss of innocence in America.
Prior to the trailer’s release, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and Butler spoke about the intense musical during a virtual press conference.
“Storytellers like Shakespeare really never did biographies, instead what they did was look at a life and used the life as a canvas to explore a larger idea. A great biopic is terrific and what became apparent to me in this modern era is the life of Elvis Presley could not be a better canvas to explore America in the 50s, the 60s and the 70s. It a very mystical life he lived. His 42 years are three great lives put into a short period of time and what’s extraordinary about it is his life is culturally in the center of it all.”
ELVIS is also seen through the prism of his complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks), who plays an unsympathetic character; a transformative role, viewers have never seen from Hanks before.
“Tom ran towards [that character]. It’s interesting because the trailer says, ‘there are some who say I am the villain of this story.’ So, from that character’s point of view, he’s defending his telling of that story. It’s a device because in truth when it comes to a historical character there’s only somebody’s telling of that story. Even in life, it’s your memory and your version of their life and people always tell the story of someone else from a perspective that’s their telling,” Luhrmann said.
Austin Butler who was 27 when cast (he’s 30 now) spoke honestly about the heavy task of embodying a music legend, whose voice, mannerisms are still imitated today, as Luhrmann made clear the goal was to get into the musical language of the film. It is Butler’s voice for young Elvis and a blend of the Butler and tapes of Presley for midlife Elvis.
“Fundamentally getting to explore the humanity of somebody that has become the wallpaper of society in a way. He’s such an icon and is held up to a superhuman status. So, to get to explore that for years now and learn why he was the way that he was, what he was, and to find the human within the icon was really such a joy I could do for the rest of my life,” Austin proclaimed.
“When I began the process, I set out to get my voice to be identical but what that does is also instills fear. So that got the fire burning inside me to work 6-7 days a week with voice coaching and working with different experts to get the register and the dialect in the right place. But ultimately, the life is what’s important. To find the life and the passion and heart of the person is what mattered. I wanted to live the life as truthful as possible,” Austin continued.
“It can’t be an impersonation, it has to be an interpretation because we don’t have the source material and even if we did, it’s filtered through old nostalgic technology. Austin’s number one mission was to humanize Elvis Presley, was to show the person on the journey,” Baz agreed.
“First I just watched as much as a I could and thankfully there’s so much incredibly amazing footage out there. It was ultimately such a pleasure to take that time to study him. I had an incredible movement coach and we delved into the why. We asked, ‘why does he do that? What is really going on inside’ I find that once you do that enough it stops feeling external, it just becomes a part of you. It’s such an incredible responsibility. I feel responsible to his family and all the people around the world who loves him dearly. I started to feel like I grew into [the role] and felt his humanity more. We just allowed his visceral life to come out,” said Austin.
The most musical aspect of the trailer is Elvis’ spiritual yearning and the attraction to gospel musical. The trailer shows Presley desperately attempting to reconnect with his origins in gospel music, saying, “I’m almost 40 and nobody’s going to remember me. I need to get back to who I really am. This could all be over in a flash.”
For Austin, “It was an incredible gift getting to go down to Nashville to record with the most amazing gospel singers I have ever heard. They’re stamping their feet and I stood in the center as tears just poured down my face, and I got chills down my spine. It’s a glorious experience and it’s hard not to have it on your marrow at that point. It’s experiences like that, that really showed me how much gospel and spirituals influenced Elvis on a musical and spiritual level, [It affected the way that he moved and on the freedom of his body. It was really beautiful.”
“The number one thing about Elvis Presley’s journey is Black music and Black culture isn’t a side note or a footnote or a bit. It’s absolutely the canvas in which the story is written. Meaning, if you take that out of the Elvis Presley story, there’s no story. He grew up in the community from the get-go, the idea of him on Beale Street sometimes being the only white face in Club Andy. You have the Civil Rights Movement emerging, you have him being a problem jumping the race line. Eventually the journey of Elvis is to get back to who he really is. And who he really is, is gospel music, and gospel music is spiritual. That man was a spiritual being.”
ELVIS also stars The Society alum Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, Yola Quartey as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Luke Bracey as Jerry Schilling, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, and Dacre Montgomery as Steve Binder.
It will release June 24th exclusively in theaters for a 45-day window and then will become available on HBO Max.