An Elvis Presley biopic released in 2022 begs the question: why now?
But for Oscar-nominated director Baz Luhrmann, the answer is simple — the timing was just right.
Luhrmann’s gripping biopic tells the heartbreaking story of the legendary crooner’s life, legacy and personal struggles, including his unhappy marriage to Priscilla Presley.
“I’ve been waiting for the right moment and also for the right path,” Luhrmann told the Post on Wednesday at the BFI event “Baz Luhrmann in conversation” in London.
“I think there are two big American gestures. I’m particularly fascinated by the ‘Big Sell’ – the ability to sell yourself well and the gesture of the new,” explains Luhrmann. “Especially the 50s, 60s, 70s – the ‘new’. Elvis represents the new. Coincidentally during his lifetime he was in one of the few White Houses and in the black community absorbing the black community and mixing it with the country.”
The film focused on the rise of the rock ‘n’ roll icon and offered a unique insight into his working relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks.
“Colonel is the hit, an evil genius. I had cracked the Colonel thing about five years ago and just felt like one of them is completely out of whack with the other in our own culture,” Luhrmann said, adding that his primary focus is making the film “everything” is about the sale.”
“So I thought this Colonel and Elvis idea would resonate with audiences. And that made me pull the trigger. That’s what made me want to commit,” he revealed.
“Elvis” grossed $285 million worldwide upon its June release, beating its $85 million budget when lead actor Austin Butler slipped into the blue suede shoes, with Luhrmann previously saying Butler was simply “born to to play the role”.
But Butler’s on-screen performance in the 2-hour, 39-minute biopic — which was applauded far and wide, including by Presley’s immediate relatives — required many sacrifices on his part.
“Austin never broke his character,” Luhrmann said. “He was in his role 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two years. I never really heard him speak as Austin Butler until about three weeks ago.”
“Finally he threw off the shell. He was so dedicated to merging his spirit with that of Elvis,” added the Australian filmmaker.
Butler embraced the role and cut himself off from the rest of the world.
“I’ve basically been on hiatus for the rest of my life for two years,” Butler said earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered. “I just absorbed everything I could.”
The actor said he was hospitalized in March 2021, where he spent a week bedridden after his body “started shutting down the day after I finished Elvis.”
Butler was diagnosed with a virus similar to appendicitis after becoming so immersed in the role that his body revolted.
Luhrmann, who also directed The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, opened up about his bold decision to name Doja Cat’s rap-heavy tune Vegas as the main song on the film’s soundtrack.
“It’s like Gatsby, is it great to have a hit album and a few Grammy nominations? Secure. But I don’t do it for that reason,” he told the Post. “And just like Gatsby, I wanted you to feel what jazz feels like.
“In the song Doja decodes the words and it really means this is a really edgy song that a lot of young parents don’t want their kids to hear and Elvis is performing this song on national TV. So that is his function,” explained Luhrmann.
The hit track also features vocals from the late Shonka Dukureh, who played blues singer Big Mama Thornton in the hit film.
Dukureh tragically passed away in July, just a month after the film’s release. She was 44 years old. The musician was found dead in her bedroom in the Nashville apartment she shared with her two children, police said.
“She was so beautiful and it’s such a sad story,” Luhrmann said before revealing how she landed on the role.
“We recorded a gospel, she had two kids – she really wasn’t well known at all. And I said, ‘How would you feel if you played the part?’” Dukureh then flew to Australia to record the song.
Luhrmann said Dukureh agreed to have her vocals included in the hit, which has been viewed nearly 14 million times on YouTube alone.
“She did fantastic. I said, ‘Look, I’m making a stop with Doja, how do you feel when I use the voice in the Doja song?’ She agreed, it was a blessing.”
“But this story has the saddest ending,” said Luhrmann. “She’s pursuing her dream of being an actress and then, shockingly, she passed away just a few months ago. I can’t imagine if it’s the best thing in the world that she was at least able to make the dream come true and show her love and her gift out there.”
https://nypost.com/2022/10/01/baz-luhrmann-why-elvis-timing-was-right-praises-austin-butlers-devotion-to-role/ As for why ‘Elvis’ timing was ‘right’, Austin praises Butler’s ‘devotion’ to the role