First the 1920s and now the 1950s, Baz Luhrmann is holding a microscope up to 20th century Americana.
The Australian filmmaker shared a sneak peek at upcoming Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis” during the Warner Bros. Discovery CinemaCon panel in Las Vegas on April 26, ahead of the film’s upcoming premiere at 2022 Cannes.
“This is not really a biopic,” Luhrmann said on stage. “It’s really for me about America in the 50s and 60s and 70s. If you want to talk about America in the 50s and 60s and 70s, at the center of culture, for the good the bad and the ugly, was Elvis.”
Luhrmann continued, “Shakespeare would explore culture through kings.”
So, why not focus on “The King” himself, Presley?
“If it feels a bit like a superhero film, it is,” Luhrmann added. “Because actually Elvis is like the original superhero.”
According to writer-director Luhrmann, “Elvis” is told through the “prism” of Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks, or if you will, Elvis’ “kryptonite.” The film stars triple threat Disney alum Austin Butler in the titular role, along with Olivia DeJonge playing Priscilla, Kodi Smit-McPhee as country legend Jimmie Rodgers, Yola Quartey as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. playing B.B. King. The film will be released in theaters on June 24.
Despite not being a direct biopic, Luhrmann said he relied on historical accuracy with a slight heightened flair.
“I’d say it’s my kind of film,” the “Moulin Rouge!” director said. “But it’s more grounded and I guess right out of the gate more accessible to audiences.”
Lead star Butler was also in attendance at CinemaCon and gushed about collaborating with Luhrmann.
“I was over the moon,” Butler said about being cast in the role. “To get to explore the life of Elvis and for as long as we got to do it and then to get to work with Baz who I truly believe is one of the greatest filmmakers cinema has ever had, what a joy.”
The “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” star sings all of the “young Elvis” tracks in the film, as Luhrmann clarified “old Elvis” songs are sampled from the real-life crooner.
Luhrmann noted that his approach to the soundtrack for “Elvis” was similar to how he worked with Jay-Z on “Great Gatsby,” which famously included a haunting track by Lana del Rey.
“You will hear the classics, you will see the story of Elvis,” Luhrmann explained, “but we’ve also translated that for a younger generation.”
Luhrmann cited Doja Cat’s performance at Coachella among modern inspirations before sharing footage of Butler as Presley performing at a segregated concert in the South. Doja Cat’s “Vegas” incorporates Presley’s “Hound Dog,” and Luhrmann noted that the film is not finished yet when it comes to mixing tracks.
The Warner Bros. Discovery panel also revealed a first look at “Barbie” with lead star and producer Margot Robbie shown as the Mattel doll come to life. “Barbie” will be released in theaters on July 21, 2023.
Additional reporting by Tony Maglio and Chris Lindahl.