Director Baz Luhrmann is ready for a little more conversation about Elvis Presley.
The Australian filmmaker hopes his new biopic, “Elvis,” showcases the King of Rock 'n' Roll’s full story by depicting the highs and lows of his prolific life and career.
Luhrmann’s research included repeated visits to the Graceland mansion where Presley lived, and meeting early on with family members such as Elvis’ wife, Priscilla Presley, whom the director says wrote him an effusive letter after seeing the movie.
“She said, ‘I’ve had to put up with a lifetime of people impersonating, and my husband was not an impersonation. He was a person.’ I thought that was the most telling thing,” Luhrmann told the Daily News.
Coming to theaters Friday, “Elvis” stars Austin Butler as Presley, and follows the singer’s transformation from a young rebel known for his controversial gyrating dance moves to a cultural icon whose many hits include “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Hound Dog” and “A Little Less Conversation.”
The film also explores how manager Colonel Tom Parker, portrayed by Tom Hanks, helped propel Presley to global superstardom, before being accused of manipulating the artist for his own personal gains.
It was important to show the “connective tissue between (Presley) and Black music,” said Luhrmann, who believes the singer had an “almost supernatural relationship” with the gospel genre.
“He was a uniter,” Luhrmann, 59, said. “He really was someone who, in his spirit, believed in what made us the same, not what made us different. But the forces around him were the opposite to that.”
The role of Presley garnered tremendous interest among Hollywood actors, with pop star Harry Styles among those who auditioned. The job ultimately went to Butler, whom Luhrmann says impressed him from the beginning.
“I get this video of this young guy, wrapped in a bathrobe, playing ‘Unchained Melody’ and looking up to the sky and crying. It was like watching just something real,” Luhrmann said of Butler’s audition.
“And then when I found out he was coming in, and Denzel Washington rings me and says, ‘You’re about to meet a young actor whose work ethic is like no other,’ because Denzel and he had been in a play together. When he walked in, he was already down Elvis Presley boulevard, in terms of his process.
“It kind of didn’t stop from there. ... He just got deeper and deeper and deeper until finally, in my view, their souls meshed.”
Butler, 30, really sang in scenes featuring the young Presley, while his voice was blended with the real singer’s to depict his later years.
“Elvis” is the latest high-profile film for Luhrmann, who also co-wrote and produced the movie. He previously directed “Moulin Rouge!” starring Nicole Kidman, as well as the Leonardo DiCaprio-led projects “The Great Gatsby” and “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.”
Luhrmann says he was able to get “some insights” for “Elvis” during those initial meetings with the singer’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, and granddaughter, Riley Keough, as well as with Priscilla.
“I can’t tell you in my life if I’ve ever had a screening I’ve been more nervous about than the screening that I had when I finally had to show (Priscilla) the film, because I wanted her there to see that I did everything I could to tell the truth but also to be fair,” Luhrmann said.
He says he’ll “cherish” Lisa Marie’s reaction to the film as well.
“She knew her father’s vibe, but it’s one thing to grow up not knowing your father and having lost him,” Luhrmann said. “It’s another thing that one half of the world thinks he’s a god, and the other half thinks he’s a Halloween costume and a joke. It came home to me how difficult that’s been for her, and then somewhat the lifting of that burden has really come home for me, too.”
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