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Baz Luhrmann's Elvis - What We Know So Far

Though they're nothing new for Hollywood, the musical biopic is a variety of film that has increased in popularity within the past few years. The likes of "Walk the Line" and "Ray" did fairly well in their time, but none can compare to 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The somewhat dramatized look at the life of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (portrayed by Rami Malek) performed incredibly well critically and commercially, in addition to nabbing multiple Academy Awards. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that none other than Elvis Presley is due for a similar treatment.

January 8, 1935, marks the birth of Elvis Aaron Presley, a kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, who would go on to earn his place as one of the biggest cultural icons in history. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Presley became nothing short of a musical sensation whose fanbase spanned the globe. Soon dubbed "The King of Rock and Roll," he sold numerous records, took over radio stations everywhere, and even popped up on screens big and small. To this day — now 44 years removed from his untimely death — Elvis Presley remains an entertainment giant with a legacy that will live on for generations to come.

With a résumé like that, it's clear there's plenty of material on the table for a cinematic adaptation. The mastermind behind such projects as "Moulin Rouge!" and "Strictly Ballroom," Baz Luhrmann, is the one responsible for the picture known simply as "Elvis," which appears to finally be picking up steam. Here's what we know about the biopic so far.

When will Elvis hit theaters?

For those who don't know, Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" has been trapped in development hell for quite a long time now. Rumblings of such a production date back to 2014, but audiences were met with radio silence for years after initial reports made the rounds. Thankfully, 2019 broke the trend, and by January of 2020, principal photography kicked off. The COVID-19 pandemic inevitably halted filming come March, not picking up again until September of that same year. So, with 2021 nearly over, where is "Elvis" at now?

The answer to such a question isn't hard to find, seeing as Baz Luhrmann himself addressed it via Twitter on November 15, 2021. "Elvis Monday," he wrote, continuing, "Made a little something to let you good people know we are taking care of business." To round off his social media post, he shared that the "Elvis" release date is now June 24, 2022 — a bit later than the previously revealed June 3, 2022. To build a bit more excitement, he included a brief teaser for the biopic set to a rather haunting rendition of the classic Presley track, "Suspicious Minds."

Elvis is taking a different approach to the musical biopic

A big reason why the biopic has become so popular likely has to do with the fact that the story is already written. In most cases, such films are about people whose lives have ended, so the beginning, middle, and end are all done and documented. Baz Luhrmann easily could've made "Elvis" a cut-and-paste in this way, but according to Collider, he's taking a more ambitious approach. As opposed to covering Presley's entire life, the director reportedly seeks to focus in on his complicated partnership with Tom Parker over a 20-year period.

At the same time, Luhrmann also plans on exploring the cultural shift that came with Elvis Presley's rise to fame. In reality, he played a big hand in the youth of the United States' rejection of longstanding social norms through his provocative dancing and loud, brash music. That should create an interesting juxtaposition with the development of his romantic relationship with Priscilla and the exploration of the role she played in his personal life at that time. With all of those pieces in play, "Elvis" has the potential to be one of the most interesting biographical dramas to date.

Austin Butler is Elvis

According to Deadline, several actors were in the running to play Elvis in the biopic, including Harry Styles, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller. The role ultimately went to Austin Butler, a choice director Baz Luhrmann seemed to think was a no-brainer. "​​I had heard about Austin Butler from his stand-out role opposite Denzel Washington in 'The Iceman Cometh' on Broadway, and through a journey of extensive screen testing and music and performance workshops, I knew unequivocally that I had found someone who could embody the spirit of one of the world's most iconic musical figures," he told Deadline. There was also a push from Washington to get Butler cast, which Luhrmann admitted when catching up with Entertainment Weekly.

Butler revealed to Vogue that his ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens once told him he had to play Elvis after hearing him sing along to "Blue Christmas." Shortly after that conversation, Butler learned Luhrmann was working on an Elvis film, so he started listening to every song by the singer on repeat. He prepared an audition tape he didn't feel comfortable with but later recorded himself in a vulnerable moment performing "Unchained Melody," which floored Luhrmann. Hudgens' prediction that Butler was meant to play Elvis seems right on the money. After well over a decade of starring in pre-teen and teenage sitcoms and dramas, Butler is finally moving into the spotlight in major motion pictures. The actor gave moviegoers a small taste of what he has to offer as Tex in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," but "Elvis" gives him the chance to really showcase his talents.

Tom Hanks is Colonel Tom Parker

As reported by Deadline, Tom Hanks will appear alongside Austin Butler in "Elvis." The two-time Academy Award winner portrays Colonel Tom Parker in the film — Elvis' longtime manager. According to Biography, Parker saw Elvis performing at the Louisiana Hayride in January 1955 and became determined to make him a star. Hanks steps into a role that takes him away from his many nice-guy performances, and while Parker isn't necessarily a stereotypical villain, fans of the actor will see him portray something out of the norm. Parker took half of Elvis' earnings throughout his time in the music industry and was responsible for most of his major career moves.

"He was both a genius and a scoundrel," Hanks said of his character on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. "He was a very disciplined man, but also a guy who you might want to check your wallet to make sure you still have all those fives and tens." Baz Luhrmann promises an exceptional performance by Hanks. "When it comes to Colonel Tom Parker, I really enjoy — one of my great joys in life is working with well-known actors who are very well known for certain strings on their instrument," he told CinemaBlend. "So one of the great thrills in working with Tom, who is the Rolls Royce of actors, I mean, you know, that is a ride you want to be on." Luhrmann went on to say that Hanks will "be playing a new string on his instrument" in his film, adding, "I think that's a thrilling thing to see."

Olivia DeJonge is Priscilla Presley

In October 2019, Deadline revealed that Olivia DeJonge had been cast as Priscilla Presley in "Elvis." While she's best known for her roles in the TV shows "The Society" and "The Staircase," DeJonge isn't a stranger to feature films, having appeared in the likes of "The Visit," "Better Watch Out," and "Stray Dolls." Her upcoming role in Baz Luhrmann's highly anticipated biopic will be her biggest to date. The casting of Priscilla was just as important as finding the right Elvis, but Luhrmann is confident that he made the right choice in DeJonge.

"Olivia is capable of manifesting the complex depth and presence that has made Priscilla Presley an icon in her own right," the director said in a statement (via Deadline). "She's an extremely talented young actor and the perfect counterpoint to Austin's Elvis." DeJonge attended the 2022 Met Gala, where she told Vogue that she prepared for the role by doing "a lot of reading and a lot of listening." Priscilla and Elvis were married for six years and had one daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. They met when Priscilla was 14 and would tie the knot years later. Their age difference (Elvis was ten years her senior) was a major talking point for Tom Parker, Priscilla's parents, and the media, per Biography.

Dacre Montgomery is Steve Binder

In September 2020, Variety revealed that Australian actor Dacre Montgomery was set to play Steve Binder in "Elvis." Montgomery's first major movie role was in 2017's "Power Rangers," but he is mainly known for playing the bully Billy Hargrove in the second and third seasons of "Stranger Things." In a statement shared by Variety, Baz Luhrmann said he was excited about adding some talented Australian actors to the "Elvis" roster, which included those he had worked with before and newcomers like Montgomery. The director also tweeted about the joy of working with the young Aussie and revealed he has a "very important role" in the film.

Steve Binder was the director of "Elvis: The Comeback Special" in 1968, which marked the beginning of his relationship with Elvis. In an interview with Elvis Australia, Binder detailed the intense preparation of the special, which he spent a hefty amount of time planning with the singer and Tom Parker. This marked the only program Binder worked directly with Elvis on, but he edited or directed a handful of Elvis-related projects after the singer's death in 1977.

David Wenham is Hank Snow

Also mentioned in Variety's "Elvis" exclusive was the casting of David Wenham, who is playing the country singer Hank Snow. This is the third time Wenham and Baz Luhrmann have worked together, the first being 2001's "Moulin Rouge," and the second being 2008's "Australia." In a tweet from February 2022, Luhrmann wrote, "David's range as an actor is such that I'm sure that some of you may not recognize him from my previous films." The director included three photos of Wenham portraying his characters from each movie for comparison. Wenham responded by singing Luhrmann's praises in his own tweet.

Hank Snow is known for country hits from the 50s and 60s like "I've Been Everywhere," "I'm Movin' On," and "I Don't Hurt Anymore." According to The Washington Post, Snow served as a mentor to Elvis when the latter was just starting out in his career, and they eventually toured together. Snow claimed that he and Colonel Tom Parker were managing Elvis together to begin with, and even prepared a lawsuit when Parker took the reins himself. "Parker prepared a contract for Presley with what I thought was a contract with our agency," Snow states in the papers. He never filed the lawsuit, which was discovered years later by collector Stephen Shutts and sold at auction for over $4,000.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is Jimmie Rodgers Snow

Playing Jimmie Rodgers Snow in "Elvis" is recent Academy Award nominee Kodi Smit-McPhee, who received widespread acclaim for his performance in "The Power of the Dog." When speaking with Newsweek, the actor revealed that life on a Baz Luhrmann set is nothing like he's experienced before in the business. "To see how he works, how he flies by the seat of his pants, and how he has this spontaneous creativity that he just runs with," Smit-McPhee said. "He's not bounded by limitations which most people usually are in our industry when making a film, whether it's money, producers, sets, time. He just flies with his gut and it's an amazing thing to see because he absolutely pulls it off."

Smit-McPhee's Jimmie Rodgers Snow is the son of Hank Snow. According to the New York Times, Hank Snow was inspired by the yodeling icon Jimmie Rodgers so much that he named his only son after him. Elvis and Jimmie Rodgers Snow became fast friends, rising in popularity together according, per the latter's official website. The duo often toured together, and Jimmie Rodgers Snow was present for Elvis' historic first performance at the Louisiana Hayride, which will be featured in the film.

The additional supporting cast of Elvis

Rounding out the cast of "Elvis" is Luke Bracey as Jerry Schilling, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, Natasha Bassett as Dixie Locke, Kate Mulvany as Marion Keisker, and Chaydon Jay as a young Elvis. Playing Elvis' parents, Vernon Presley and Gladys Presley, are Richard Roxburgh and Helen Thomson. According to Variety, Rufus Sewell and Maggie Gyllenhaal were originally slated to play The King's parents. Sewell and Gyllenhaal had to walk away from their respective roles after delays in production due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new production schedule conflicted with other projects, causing the parts to be recast.

Jerry Schilling was a longtime friend of Elvis and his talent agent, while Marion Keisker was the first person to ever record the singer. Keisker told Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick that the signer once interrupted a press conference to thank her after spotting her in the crowd. "That was the first and only time that Elvis indicated publicly that he recognized the role that I had played," she said (via Rhodes College). Dixie Locke was an actor and Elvis' first girlfriend, per Elvis Australia, while most people will no doubt recognize B.B. King as one of the best blues musicians of all time.

How real is the singing in Elvis?

Joaquin Phoenix sang in the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line," as did Taron Egerton when he played Elton John in "Rocketman," but did "Elvis" star Austin Butler do the same? The actor confirmed to Variety in 2019 that he would be doing his own singing in the film and that his preparations included hours and hours of hard work. When asked if he had a favorite song he was excited to perform in the movie, Butler said he couldn't narrow it down to one as he loves them all. The only thing he wanted to do at that stage was make certain he sounded exactly like Elvis.

"When I began the process, I set out to get my voice to be identical," Butler told The Hollywood Reporter. "That instills fear. So that got the fire burning. For a year before we started shooting, I was doing voice coaching." However, there is a caveat here. Baz Luhrmann has confirmed that only the young Elvis features Butler's singing voice. The older Elvis is a mixture of Butler and recordings of the actual Elvis Presley. While Butler's voice will be featured in every song in the film, longtime fans of The King may be able to recognize his signature tones in the blended tracks.

The Elvis trailer

If you know a few things about Elvis Presley's life then you pretty much know the plot of Baz Luhrmann's film already, but the trailer does give us a deeper look into how the writer-director has approached the story. It looks like the Louisiana Hayride performance is going to be a major scene in the movie, with Tom Hanks' Colonel Tom Parker falling for Elvis' allure instantly. We also see the beginnings of their relationship as Parker offers to manage Elvis, and there's a hint that the former might be a bit shifty.

There are also glimpses into Elvis' childhood, showing him as a young boy sneaking into a Black church where the parishioners welcome him. He starts to dance with them and really gets into the music — which proves to carry over to his onstage presence later in the trailer. Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' team, and other musicians appear briefly in the trailer, but it mostly focuses on Parker and The King. We see Elvis highly impacted by the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., which Parker tries to get him to shake off.

The trailer also confirms that the film will span several decades, as we see Elvis early in his career and later in the many extravagant outfits that he sported during his long stint in Las Vegas. According to the Los Angeles Times, the superstar played a whopping 636 concerts during his famous residency.

How does the Presley family feel about all of this?

Biopics can be a tricky business. It's always possible the fan base or family of the subject could be offended by the things they see in the film. Kathy Cash (the daughter of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash) was so upset with how her mother was portrayed in "Walk the Line" that she walked out of a special screening of the film, according to Fox News. Luckily for Baz Luhrmann and his cast, that wasn't the case when friends and family members sat down to watch "Elvis" for the first time.

Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, and Jerry Schilling were given a special screening of "Elvis," and all have confirmed they are extremely happy with it. In a Facebook post, Priscilla wrote, "It is a true story told brilliantly and creatively that only Baz, in his unique artistic way, could have delivered. Austin Butler, who played Elvis, is outstanding. Halfway through the film Jerry and I looked at each other and said WOW!!! Bravo to him... He knew he had big shoes to fill."

Additionally, in an Instagram post, Priscilla confirmed that her daughter Lisa Marie absolutely loved the movie. She said her daughter's admiration for the picture made her cry. "It took me a few days to overcome the emotions as it did with Lisa," she wrote in the caption. "Beautifully done Baz, Tom, Austin, and Olivia." Schilling was also over the moon with "Elvis." In Vogue's Met Gala interview, he said that he and Priscilla were both "blown away" by the movie. "It's history," he added. "It's the real story."