In a stunning new trailer for the upcoming Baz Luhrmann movie Elvis (releasing June 24), Austin Butler transforms into Elvis Presley, with a shocking resemblance to the singer, and Tom Hanks steps into an unexpectedly more villainous role as Colonel Tom Parker.
“The truth is, that in this modern era, the life of Elvis Presley could not be a better canvas on which to explore America in the '50s, the '60s and the '70s," Luhrmann told reporters ahead of the trailer’s release.
“That's what drew me. That, and a guy called Colonel Tom Parker, who I always like to say was never a Colonel, never a Tom and never a Parker.”
Much of the Elvis story will be based on Presley’s complicated relationship with controversial manager Parker, spanning over 20 years, and the singer’s rise to unprecedented fame.
The trailer, which Luhrmann describes as an “invitation” to the film, begins with a voiceover from Hanks who says, "there are some who make me out to be the villain of this here story," and Luhrmann highlights that he doesn’t say, “and they’re right.”
“From that character's point of view, he's defending, actually, his telling of that story,” the filmmaker said. “It’s a device because in truth, when it comes to a historical character, there's only ever somebody’s telling of that story.”
Hanks, as Parker, goes on to pose a question in the trailer, whether you’re "born with destiny" or if it comes “knocking at your door.”
“He was my destiny,” he says about Elvis.
With the film going back to Presley’s roots in gospel music, transitioning to him being seen as a “strange” and “shocking” artist, the cast and crew of Elvis were tasked with how to translate that to a modern audience.
“It can't be an impersonation, it's got to be an interpretation because we don't have the source material and even if we did, it's filtered through old nostalgic technology,” Luhrmann said.
“Austin’s number one mission, from the moment I met him, was to humanize Elvis Presley. Was to show the person on the journey.”
Transforming into someone with 'superhuman status'
Austin Butler admits that playing Presley were “huge” shoes to fill, as someone who has “superhuman status” in society, but as we see in the trailer, the 30-year-old actor seems to be an incredible fit to take on the role, both physically, musically and in the emotional performance teased in the trailer. Butler sang some of Presley’s songs for the movie, specifically up until the 1960s, where the music is then blended with the real artist's recordings.
Beginning the process of this film when he was 27, Butler’s initial goal was to get his voice to be identical to Presley, to the point where if you heard a recording of both of them, you wouldn’t know the difference. But that shifted as his work on the film progressed.
“What that does is it also instills fear,...this fear that I'm not going to achieve that,” Butler told reporters. Ultimately, the life is what is important.”
“You can impersonate somebody but to find the humanity and the life within and the passion, and the heart, ultimately I had to release myself from the constraints of that and try and live the life as truthfully as possible.”
Butler worked with movement coach Polly Bennett, who also worked with Rami Malek to play Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Rather than looking at the external of how he may touch his face or how he moves his legs on stage, any physical thing that seems external, you ask the question, why does he do that? What is really coming up inside?” Butler explained. “Then I found that once you do that enough, it stops feeling external,...it feels like it's a part of you.”
“When I first started it really felt like when you're a kid and you put on your father’s suit and the sleeves are much too long, and the shoes are like boats on your feet. In the beginning I thought this is impossible, how can I possibly do anything but feel like I'm less than this superhuman individual, and then as time passed, at least for me, I started to feel like grew into it and suddenly I felt his humanity more.”
The actor added that through working with Luhrmann, some moments were very meticulous, making sure to get, for example, every finger to be the exact same way as Presley moved, and other takes were done just to let the “visceral life” come out.
Luhrmann, as a filmmaker, describes himself as the “ultimate outsider” who “lives” in the context of every movie he makes. For Elvis through “living it,” the filmmaker stressed how important Black culture was in Presley’s life.
“The thing that became so apparent to me by living it, in Memphis and living the story, is that actually, the number one thing about Elvis Presley’s journey is that Black music and culture isn't a side note or a footnote or a bit, it's absolutely the canvas on which the story [written]," Luhrmann said. "You have the civil rights movement emerging, you have him becoming a problem in terms of jumping the race line and he's a problem, it's dangerous.”
Luhrmann teased that in the film we see a point where “something has to be done about this Elvis kid” and “something is done about this Elvis kid.”
“We are the same you and I,” Hanks, as Parker, says in the trailer. “We are two odd lonely children, reaching for eternity.”