Elvis and Austin Butler feel the temperature rise Arts and entertainment

On the day of Austin Butler’s last screen test for Elvis, director Baz Luhrmann threw it all away.

Butler had spent five months building this moment, playing the role with Luhrmann, doing hair and makeup tests, rehearsing songs. Contrary to all odds, Butler proved to be the unlikely favorite for the role in front of more established names such as Harry Styles, Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort. But it wasn’t official yet.

And during the screen test, Luhrmann reversed the script. Some of the scenes Butler had prepared came out the window. In others, Luhrmann fed him with remarks behind the camera. One minute of “Suspicious Minds”, which Butler had to perform in Presley’s overalls, stretched to six.

I went home and really thought, “I don’t think I understand that. “I felt like my hands were tied behind my back,” Butler said in a recent interview.

A week later in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old actor’s phone rang. Luhrmann was calling from Australia.

“I look at the phone and say, ‘Okay, this is the time,'” Butler said. “I picked up the phone and it was very dramatic and depressing. He said, “Austin, I just wanted to be the first to call and say … Are you ready to fly, Mr. Presley?”

When “Elvis” hits theaters on Friday, he will resurrect one of the most iconic figures in American music in the biggest and most stunning film ever trying to make The King of Rock and Roll. And that will bring Butler, Orange County, California, best born to date as Tex Watson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, on a much bigger stage.

“Everything looks like this wonderful dream,” Butler said the morning after the premiere of the Cannes Film Festival. I have to take moments to take a deep breath and say, “This is real life.”

What is true and what is false in the exaggerated land of the much-imitated Elvis has not always been easy to distinguish. Elvis, co-writer Luhrmann, does not accept a standard biographical view of Presley, but tells his story through Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), a former carnival barker who brought Presley to fame but exploited and manipulated him. until Presley’s death in 1977, Parker tells the story, adding a dimension to the nature of show business and performance.

Baz said at the first meeting: “Look, this is a story for two people. “There would never be an Elvis without Colonel Tom Parker, and he thinks there would never be a Colonel Tom Parker without Elvis,” Hanks said. “As soon as he said that, I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be a new terrain and worthy of a Baz-maximalist-confetti-style filmmaking style.’

And like The Great Gatsby and the Moulin Rouge, Elvis is truly an extravagant, maximalist Baz-style swell. As you might expect, he goes through key moments in the life of the Mississippi-born singer from Memphis and a jukebox of songs. But Elvis also offers a more youthful, rebellious portrait of Presley as a product of black gospel music, an eye-catching sex symbol, and a progressive-minded nonconformist whose tightly controlled career reflects the cultural battles of then and now. Butler’s is an electric Elvis, not a nostalgic act, with more Bowie in it than you’d expect.

“I’m not here to tell the world that Elvis is a great person. I’ll tell you what he is to me,” Luhrmann said. “Everyone has their Elvis.”

“My job in general is to take things that are considered boring or old-fashioned or inappropriate, and to shake off the rust and recode them,” said Luhrmann, creator of the modern Romeo + Juliet. “Not to change them, just to translate them so that their value is there again.”

Presley’s value to modern audiences, though still beyond most of his contemporaries, has faded somewhat. For many, it is the appropriation of black music. Some relatively recent productions – the 2005 Broadway musical “All Shook Up”, Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas – failed miserably.

All of this meant that Butler had a lot on his shoulders. It was important to him to find ways to make Presley more human than superhuman. One resonant connection for the actor was to learn that Presley’s mother died when he was 23, the same age that Butler was when he lost his mother. And as Presley, initially a timid performer, Butler grew up shy.

“Then I could say, ‘When I’m scared and I feel like I’m under a lot of pressure and I’m afraid I’m going to fall on my face, he feels these things,'” Butler said. “So I could say, ‘It’s good to be afraid. That’s how you channel it.

Elvis was most active in its second half, in the Vegas section of the film, when Presley often reached artistic heights on stage during his run at the International Hotel in 1969-1976, but was increasingly trapped by Parker (who refused to tour Presley internationally) and drug use. Priscilla Presley, who enthusiastically supported the film, is played by Olivia DeJong.

“Many of the characters in this film are bigger than life and authentically bigger than life,” says DeJonge. “With Priscilla, I wanted to make sure she felt grounded and more like Elvis’s breath, so that whenever he was with her, he was calm.

Before Elvis began filming in Memphis, Hanks had dinner with Priscilla Presley, who later described her ex-husband as an artist, as unique as Picasso and as popular as Charlie Chaplin, who really felt real about himself and at home only when sang “

While a more vicious role is a rare diversion for Hanks – who tested positive for coronavirus during filming in Australia, an indelible early pandemic moment – “Elvis” is also typical of the actor in that he fights American history. and exists as a stand-alone drama. Elvis will compete mainly with franchise installments in theaters this summer.

“The franchise concept is now so much part of the entertainment industry that I just don’t think it’s a lot of fun,” Hanks said. “Everyone knows I’ve been doing this for an awful long time, so I think they’ll have just as much faith that they’ll take all three actions out of me and then decide if it was worth seeing or not.”

The reviews are largely positive for Elvis, but they are brilliant for Butler. (In the film, he sings some songs, while Presley’s voice is used in others.) The actor believes he has dedicated two years of his life to the film, obsessively exploring Presley and gradually becoming one. Butler went through the daily routines, wondering how Presley did them. When the movie was over, Butler struggled to release it.

“Suddenly I’m brushing my teeth, now I’m doing these worldly things. “It was a real existential crisis when I finished,” Butler said. “I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t walk. I thought my appendix was cracked. It was the most unbearable pain in my stomach, so I was taken to the emergency room. It’s a wonder how your body can endure doing something. “

The first big scene Butler shot on the second day of the production was Presley recording his important special comeback. The stage put a leather-clad Butler on stage, with little to rely on other than his own ability to excite the crowd. His nerves almost crushed him.

“But this horror of my entire career, which I felt was moving on this film, was exactly what Elvis was feeling,” Butler said. “His music career was online. It was a success or a break for him. So I could rest in that. Then I went out there and it was like an out-of-body experience.”


Follow AP screenwriter Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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