‘Elvis’: the idol and exploitation; we spoke with its protagonist and director

austin butler he is a young, attractive model and Hollywood actor, with thirty movies and series on top; however, his name was average. After sharing with him in the play The Iceman Cometh, on Broadway, Denzel Washington recommended him to the director and screenwriter Baz Luhrman, who was looking for the protagonist of his next film. The process had not been easy, he had to be handsome, a method interpreter, sing well, know how to dance and prepare for an extreme dose of sweat, pain and passion on the set. The Australian filmmaker was on the hunt for who would be his Elvis Presley.

The first time Baz saw it, Austin wasn’t at his best: it was a home video of him performing a song by the King of Rock and Roll. He was in lifter, disheveled, sleepy eyes. But the voice and the feeling let see the soul of him. Unchained Melody was the theme, the inspiration was her mother, a sadly curious detail that united him with the real Elvis: they both lost her at the age of 23. “Nostalgia, sadness, pain were my motivations for the role,” said Butler, who leaves the skin as the protagonist of Elvis, a role that puts him as a candidate for the Oscars.

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But Luhrman’s Elvis it does not dwell on the rise, glory, and decline of the idol. It’s a story told from cynicism and obsession, and no one better to do it than Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s longtime manager, also masterfully played by Oscar winner Tom Hanks.

“I killed Elvis” says Parker coldly in a sequence of the film, which goes back to the origins of Elvis Aaron Presley and his unhealthy relationship with the manager who manipulated, pressured and exploited him until his death in 1977, when his heart could no longer bear the consumption of tranquilizers .

Olivia DeJonge (Priscilla Presley) and Austin Butler (Elvis Presley).

“He was both a genius and a scoundrel. He was a very disciplined man, but also a guy you want to check your wallet to make sure you still have all those fives and tens in there. He was a crooked businessman, a cheapskate who squeezed every penny out of the situation… but he was also a pioneer in the large-scale entertainment industry that didn’t exist until Elvis came along,” he commented. Tom Hanks.

Elvis, which hits theaters across the country on Thursday, doesn’t have a conventional narrative or the visual appeal of a simple musical. As expected in a production by Baz Luhrmann – who is behind The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge! – it is an amazing journey of two hours and 40 minutes, a drama installed in the vertigo of an action film.

Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler participated in a press conference with international media, including EL TIEMPO. This they told us.

The life and career of Elvis Presley are well known. How to make this movie convincing?

Baz Luhrman: I think it’s a story that goes beyond Elvis’s life, which was great for tapping into and exploring American life in the ’50s and ’60s, but most of all, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker, which was never satisfied. . This story is about show business, management, the exploitation of an honest soul. I think all these things added to his life, his great compositions, that’s what we explored.

The role of Elvis was part of his life for the last three years. How did he prepare himself and what was left of the character?

austin butler: I did everything because the character was successful, it’s something I do in my career every day. I must thank all the people who were around me: the singing teachers, acting teachers, dialogue instructors, dance instructors (…), we would not have achieved it without their work. And with Baz, the most brilliant thing is the kind and caring way of him, which takes you to a place where you can do more than you thought possible. Create an environment where you are free to make mistakes and try things. Also, he focused on humanity, on the sensitivity of a spiritual man like Elvis.

Nostalgia, sadness, pain were my motivations for the role

The process was very nice and long and I was very afraid, I felt an enormous responsibility every day. I was nervous about failing Elvis, his legacy, his family, the adoring fans around the world. It was hard not to feel like a little boy dressed in his father’s suit, like he was wearing huge shoes he could barely walk in.

One great lesson I learned was that he was afraid and there were times in the ’60s when his career was on the edge, his life was on the edge, but I learned that when Elvis was afraid he did extraordinary things.

Another of the things that I liked the most about this story is that it puts the history of Elvis in context, the fact of knowing that what Elvis did came from black music, like the blues.

What did he see in Austin that told him he was the one?

Baz Luhrman: Austin undertook an extraordinary journey to play this role but, above all, to discover the human being that Elvis was. In the same way that Marilyn Monroe is not just another movie star –she embodies a time, a place, a sensibility, a symbology–, Elvis, as we knew him, happened in the blink of an eye. He went from being a bus driver to becoming the most famous man in the world. He starts out in the southern United States, then he appears on The Ed Sullivan Show and he’s the young man everyone talks about, the most provocative, an overnight millionaire. There was no precedent; there weren’t a hundred rock stars before him. He was alone; it is very difficult to live up to an image like yours.

Elvis film by Baz Luhrmann

Elvis had an unhealthy relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks.

What do you admire most about Elvis Presley?

austin butler: What always fascinates me about any icon is the fact that, first and foremost, they are human. Elvis was top of his class, in a way: a kid who comes out of nowhere and becomes the most famous man on the planet. It is the American dream. Furthermore, he embodied so many times that it seems that he lived 100 years; it’s amazing that he was only here 42.

We understand that Austin’s voice was mixed with Elvis’s original in the songs…

Baz Luhrman: There have been many movies about Elvis and some used the original songs and essentially had the cast perform to the beat of the track; and others have been interpretations of one voice, and both have been successful. But we are faced with a very simple technical difference: almost all Elvis recordings before the 60’s, the classic songs are beautiful, but nostalgic and were recorded on acetates. If we put aside the fact that the technical quality is not that great, the reality is that it is not possible to separate the voice from the melody, which is critical to making a film. It was not the option. That meant we had to create the sound. And we were very lucky to find Austin, because he was able to really sing like the Elvis of that time, this kind of rough early punk rock and roll sound.

At the same time, Austin’s job was to present the man when he plays the piano and is sad and sang Are You Lonesome Tonight, and not the one who was already living in the public eye. Reveal the private Elvis and, above all, be able to project the humanity and spirituality of man. I think that’s a different kind of work, which involves acting through song rather than impersonating an icon.


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‘Elvis’: the idol and exploitation; we spoke with its protagonist and director