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How The Cast Of Elvis Should Really Look

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Many actors over the years have played Elvis Presley — some of them very well, many of them not. On June 24, 2022, former Nickelodeon star Austin Butler becomes the latest actor to don the cape and sideburns in Baz Luhrmann's splashy biopic "Elvis," a look at the rise and fall of The King of Rock and Roll as seen through the eyes of his duplicitous, manipulative manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Early reviews have praised Butler's work but have been a little more skeptical of Hanks, who performs under heavy layers of makeup and with a Dutch accent.

One of the many pitfalls of fact-based films is how accurately to portray real-life figures, or even what it means to be "accurate." The late actor Philip Baker Hall, for example, neither looked nor sounded much like Richard Nixon in Robert Altman's "Secret Honor" but captured the former president's essence in performance; meanwhile, disgraced thespian Kevin Spacey gave himself a fake hairline and jowls for his full-body impersonation in the 2016 film "Elvis & Nixon." Which performance could be said to be more "accurate?" Luhrmann's film is filled with characters based on real people: Presley's contemporaries and influences, his entourage and hangers-on (the so-called "Memphis Mafia"), and his wife and family. Some of the actors were cast based on their striking physical resemblance, while others have hair, faces, and voices that are not their own. Here is a look at the cast of "Elvis" compared to their real-life counterparts.

Hank Snow

Canadian country singer Hank Snow has a brief but significant role in the Elvis mythology. Snow was a well-established star in Nashville by the early 1950s, known best for his travelogue novelty hit "I've Been Everywhere" and his dazzling array of Nudie suits. He performed regularly at the Grand Ole Opry and convinced management to let Presley, then a mostly unknown singer out of Memphis, open for him. Presley also toured with Snow and was briefly represented by Snow's management company; it was at one of these Snow-headlining tours that Col. Tom Parker first saw Elvis Presley perform. By 1955, Col. Tom Parker and Snow were both representing Presley, but it wouldn't be long before Parker muscled out Snow and ruled the remainder of Presley's career with an iron fist.

Australian actor David Wenham has been a Baz Luhrmann repertory player since "Moulin Rouge!" in 2001 and starred as the main villain of Luhrmann's 2008 historical romance, "Australia," opposite Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Wenham's blond locks have been switched out here for a slightly-receding dark brown 'do, but otherwise, his transformation appears to be all in the performance, covering up his Aussie accent with a lilt from Snow's native Nova Scotia.

B.B. King

It's no secret that white musicians who played blues music and R&B under the guise of rock and roll, like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others, had avenues to fame and fortune that were not open to their Black contemporaries. Baz Luhrmann's film can't change that history, but it does give space to the artists of color who left their mark on Presley, particularly Riley "B.B." King, who was already a blues guitar hero and DJ on Memphis station WDIA when Presley was just starting out at Sun (per Literary Hub and PBS). The film shows Presley and King sharing a real friendship in those early Memphis days, and over the decades, King would regard Elvis' phenomenal rise to power "with a mixture of fascination and envy," according to writer Daniel de Visé (via Literary Hub).

In the film, King is played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., a young actor best known for his powerful work in independent films like Dee Rees' "Mudbound" and Trey Edward Shults' "Waves." In an interview with Collider in February 2022, Harrison spoke of his preparation for the role, which included listening to a lot of King's music to get his vocal cadence down, but also understanding the heightened reality of Luhrmann's films. "It's the spirit of B.B. King and the most fun version of himself."

Little Richard

Another artist who had a tremendous impact on Presley's look and presentation was Little Richard. His hard-charging, gospel-influenced R&B and his flamboyant style on- and off-stage made him one of the first rock and roll artists, if not the first (though Fats Domino and Ike Turner might disagree). In the film, Little Richard (born Richard Penniman in Macon, Georgia) is not as much of a character as B.B. King as he is a vision of the future for young Elvis Presley, drawing a direct line from Richard's duckwalks and stage antics to the Elvis-brand hip-swivels and leg shakes that would scandalize white audiences.

To play Little Richard, Luhrmann cast lanky model Alton Mason, whose only screen credits to date have been appearances in modeling campaigns and Fashion Week recaps. In a recent interview, Mason told Jakes' Takes that he relished playing such a young version of the musical icon, coming out of the church (if not out of the closet), able to "be sexy and be wild." Richard's style appears to have left as much of a mark on Mason as it did on Presley, as his wardrobe at the film's Cannes premiere and at the 2022 Met Gala bore a distinct Little Richard flair.

Bill Black

Bass player Bill Black was a session player at Sun Records when he, lead guitarist Scotty Moore, and drummer D.J. Fontana played on Presley's early tracks. After the quartet recorded a high-energy version of "That's All Right, Mama," Black suggested that they cover the Bill Monroe Bluegrass waltz "Blue Moon of Kentucky" in a similar fashion as the record's B-side. The record was a smash hit and cemented Black, Moore, and Fontana as "The Blue Moon Boys," Presley's official backing band in those early years. Black stayed with Presley until 1958, when Elvis famously served in the Army for two years, and formed his own group, the Bill Black Combo. Black died in 1965 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

Australian comic actor Adam Dunn plays Black in "Elvis." In a red carpet interview, Dunn told the Australian podcast Smoke and Mirrors that he had played guitar for his first audition, then learned how to play one song on the upright bass (Black's main instrument) in a mad dash for the callback. He received the news from Luhrmann that he had won the role while in the bathroom; "Elvis may have died on the toilet, but I was born on it," Dunn joked.

Scotty Moore

More than anyone other than perhaps Muddy Waters and Elmore James, Scotty Moore defined the sound of rock and roll guitar in the genre's first decade. Hard-driving and country-inflected, his works were a major influence on the next wave of rock gods – George Harrison and Keith Richards especially — who were coming up, just a few years younger than him. Moore and Elvis Presley would go their separate ways, but when it came time for The King's 1968 television concert — the "Comeback Special" — he called on Moore to join him once again. The 18 songs Moore recorded with Presley for Sun Records laid the foundation for a worldwide pop music movement, but unlike his bandmate Bill Black, Moore lived long enough to be recognized and respected as an elder statesman of the genre; he died in 2016 at age 84.

Xavier Samuel brings Moore to life in Baz Luhrmann's film. He is perhaps best known in the United States for a small role in the third "Twilight" movie, but the young Australian actor has made a name for himself in the Brad Pitt World War II drama "Fury" and the 2016 Jane Austen adaptation "Love & Friendship." Later in 2022, Samuel will appear in Andrew Dominik's controversial Marilyn Monroe biopic, "Blonde."

Sam Phillips

One of the architects of American music in the last half of the 20th century, Sam Phillips had founded Sun Records and opened its storefront recording studio in Memphis in 1952 (per The Guardian). He had tasted success with Black artists on the Blues and R&B charts, including B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, and Rufus Thomas, but felt that there were greater heights he could reach if he could package Black music with a handsome white singer who could power through the defenses of a deeply segregated culture. Enter an 18-year-old Mississippi truck driver named Elvis Presley. Along with Presley and other white artists like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash (the famed "Million Dollar Quartet), Phillips developed the "Sun Records Sound," which became the de facto sound of the golden age of rock and roll (per The Guardian). In addition to Sun Records, Phillips also owned records stations around the South and was an early investor in the Holiday Inn motel chain.

Actor Josh McConville is mostly known as a theatre actor in his native Australia (per The Sydney Morning Herald). Until he and his red hairpiece make their debut in "Elvis," McConville's most notable work to American audiences is likely the 2020 Blumhouse horror remake of the 1970s series "Fantasy Island." McConville read a biography of Phillips as part of his research for the role, telling The Sydney Morning Herald, "He discovered people just through sheer determination and saying no to the naysayers."

Dr. George Nichopoulos

Greek-American physician Dr. George Nichopoulos would achieve first fame, then infamy, in his role as Elvis Presley's personal physician (per The Commercial Appeal). The Memphis-based doctor, popularly known as "Dr. Nick," was an unofficial member of Presley's entourage, known as the "Memphis Mafia." He attended to Presley both at home in Graceland and on the road but came under scrutiny in the years after The King's death at age 42 when the extent of his pill addiction became known for the first time. While some accused Dr. Nick of malpractice and overprescription, others noted that Presley was getting pills from a number of sources, and felt that Dr. Nick did his best to stem the tide of dangerous drugs (via The Commercial Appeal). Nichopoulos always denied any wrongdoing on his part, even when faced with some fairly damning questions by Geraldo Rivera on "20/20" in 1979. He wrote a book proclaiming his innocence in 2010, many years after his medical license had been suspended, in 1995, due to unrelated charges of overprescription (per The Washington Post).

English-born, Australia-based actor Tony Nixon plays Dr. Nick in what appears to be a small role, at least according to Nixon's Twitter account. No official images of him in character have been released yet, but it's likely that Nixon will be donning some variation on Dr. Nick's Gorgeous George-like shock of curly blond hair.

Jerry Schilling

Jerry Schilling was 12 years old when he found himself playing a pick-up football game in a Memphis park with his older brother's friend Red West and another pal of West's, a recent Humes High School graduate whose records were getting played all over town. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Schilling and Elvis Presley, and 10 years later, just as Schilling was finishing college, The King offered him a job. Schilling performed many duties for Presley over the years, even working as his stunt double in the 1969 western "Charro!" In between working with Elvis, Schilling also worked as a manager to Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beach Boys. Several years after Presley's death, Schilling went to work for Elvis Presley Enterprises and has served as a producer on a number of films and documentaries.

Yet another Aussie in the cast, Luke Bracey, plays Schilling. He's known for his appearances in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge," and the 2018 "Crocodile Dundee" Super Bowl ad for the Australian Tourism Board. In a red carpet interview for the film, Bracey spoke of the experience of watching Austin Butler transform into Presley; "I got to watch heaps of Elvis concerts, and not many people have been able to do that besides the actual Jerry."

Red West

Memphis native Robert "Red" West was one of Elvis Presley's oldest friends and confidantes, a charter member of the Memphis Mafia, and an actor and songwriter in his own right (per The Hollywood Reporter). They met in high school, when, according to West, he stopped a group of bullies who had cornered Presley in the bathroom. He worked as a stuntman on the 1960s western comedy "The Wild Wild West" and had uncredited on-screen roles in many of Presley's films, including "Blue Hawaii" and "Viva Las Vegas." After being fired by Presley's father, Vernon, in 1976, West and his cousin Sonny contributed to a tell-all book just weeks before Elvis' death, which was the first time The King's prescription drug addiction had ever been publicly acknowledged. Years later, West would continue to appear in film and television, most notably in "Road House" opposite Patrick Swayze and as the lead in Ramin Bahrani's 2010 indie drama "Goodbye Solo."

Australian actor Christian McCarthy, who plays Red, has just a handful of credits, mostly small and no-name roles in small Aussie films and television series. He certainly has the complexion and hair color that earned West his nickname, even if he appears to be a bit larger than his short (but pugnacious) real-life counterpart.

Sonny West

Red's cousin Delbert, nicknamed "Sonny," says he first met Elvis Presley in 1958, before he went to Germany with the Army, but other sources say he met him when Red introduced them years later. Presley and West, who would've then been an Air Force veteran, became fast friends, and soon after, West joined his cousin in serving as The King's bodyguards, stuntmen, and at times, enablers. Like Red, Sonny made regular appearances in Presley's films and even landed a few bit parts on television, but never made a career of it the way Red did. Sonny and Red were both fired from the Memphis Mafia by Vernon Presley in 1976, which spurred them to publish "Elvis, What Happened?," written from their memories by Australian gossip columnist Steve Dunleavy. After Presley's death, West became a renaissance man, designing jewelry and raising horses, hosting a radio show, working as head of security for a country music tour in the 1980s, and touring in his later years with a one-man show about his time with Elvis.

Mike Bingaman, who plays Sonny, has appeared in a number of short films and independent features both in the United States and Australia, including the Australian motocross drama series "Dirt" and the award-winning short film "Kommando 1944."

Vernon Presley

Elvis Presley's father, Vernon, never stopped working. Before his son became a superstar, Vernon worked as a laborer in Mississippi and later in Memphis; afterward, he took an active hand in managing Elvis' business and accompanied him on tour for his entire career (via The Washington Post). Vernon managed the Graceland estate, took the lead in decisions like firing Red and Sonny West in 1976, citing a "cutdown on expenses" (per Rolling Stone), and was named executor of his son's estate. After Elvis died, Vernon became the public face of the family's grief, even filming a special thank-you message, to the thousands who sent letters of condolence to Graceland, that was aired on ABC in 1977 (per Express). Vernon died in 1979, just two years after his son (via The Washington Post).

Vernon is often portrayed as his son's moral compass, the true north that Elvis often turned away from. To embody this paragon of working-class virtue, Baz Luhrmann had originally cast Rufus Sewell, but when coronavirus delays forced him to bow out, the filmmaker brought in a ringer: celebrated Australian actor Richard Roxburgh (per Variety). Luhrmann fans, of course, would already know Roxburgh from his villainous turn in "Moulin Rouge!," but in recent years the actor also appeared in "The Crown" and "Catherine the Great."

Gladys Presley

With all due respect to Priscilla Presley and the many other women whom Elvis Presley was involved with over the years, only one woman ever lived in his heart, and that was his mother, Gladys. Mrs. Presley doted on her only son (after the death in childbirth of Elvis' twin brother, Jesse), and was doted upon in return. As Elvis began to taste real success, he was determined that his parents would reap the rewards. Gladys died in 1958, when Presley was in the Army (per Express). Presley was so distraught at the funeral that he reportedly took ill for several days afterward.

Maggie Gyllenhaal was originally cast as Gladys in "Elvis," but like her would-be screen husband Rufus Sewell, departed the project when coronavirus caused significant delays (per Variety). Baz Luhrmann recast the role with veteran Australian actress Helen Thomson, who has starred in many projects with her "Elvis" castmates over the years, including a stint in the 2010s with movie husband Richard Roxburgh in his Aussie barrister dramedy "Rake."

Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Beaulieu moved a lot growing up; her stepfather was an Air Force officer, and as soon as their family had put down stakes in a place, it was time to pull them up and move once again. In 1959 the Beaulieu family relocated to Bad Nauheim, West Germany, and it was there that she met a young GI named Elvis Presley (per The Guardian). Presley was, of course, already world-famous at this point, but he was immediately smitten. Beaulieu was 14 years old at the time (per The Independent). Like his former Sun Records compatriot Jerry Lee Lewis, Presley and Beaulieu had a potentially scandalous and illegal relationship on their hands. At 16, Beaulieu moved into Graceland and finished high school in Memphis, and five years later, in 1967, she and Presley were married (per The Independent). The marriage lasted just a few years, torn apart by mutual infidelities (though his far outnumbered hers), drug use, and the ravages of fame (per The Independent and Metro). After the death of Presley and his father, however, Priscilla took control of The King's estate and founded Elvis Presley Enterprises (per the New York Daily News), which has ensured that Elvis remains one of the highest-earning celebrities, alive or dead, in the world.

To prepare to play Priscilla, Australian actress Olivia DeJonge would listen to her voice narrating a tour of Graceland every night as she fell asleep. She's best known for her roles in the Netflix dystopian teen drama series "The Society" and M. Night Shyamalan's found-footage horror flick, "The Visit." The real Priscilla said she was "pleasantly surprised" by DeJonge's strong, caring portrayal of her in the film (per ABC News).

Col. Tom Parker

Of all the father figures in Elvis Presley's life, from Hank Snow to Sam Phillips to his actual father, Vernon, none of them had the level of control over his life and career, for better and often for worse, that his manager Col. Tom Parker did. Much of Parker's life has been shrouded in mystery; for one thing, he was not a colonel, nor was his name Tom Parker. Born Andreas van Kuijk–"Dries" in the Netherlands, Parker came to the United States, possibly illegally, at age 20 and got work as a carnival promoter. One kind of circus led to another, and by the 1940s he was managing and promoting musical acts; the "Colonel" came in 1948 as an honorary title by Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis after Parker helped with his campaign (per Smithsonian Magazine). Working with Presley, Parker engineered the course of the young man's life, from serving in the Army rather than requesting deferment to his years making bad movies, and in exchange, he received an exorbitant 50% commission (via The Washington Post).

Parker has been portrayed on film many times and with varying degrees of sympathy. Beau Bridges played him as a full villain in the 1993 television movie "Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story," while Randy Quaid's version of him in the 2005 CBS miniseries "Elvis" was more understanding of everything Parker, manipulative though he was, did for Presley. Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks' take on Parker, underneath layers of prosthetic weight and a cartoonish Dutch accent (per IndieWire), is on the more sympathetic side; he sees the connection between the two men as "symbiotic" rather than parasitic, though acknowledges that Parker was definitely a crook and a swindler (per The Hollywood Reporter).

Elvis Presley

When Chuck D rapped "Elvis was a hero to most, but he/ Never meant s*** to me" in 1989's "Fight the Power," Elvis Presley had been dead for 12 years, but it still felt like an incendiary statement, partly because history had for the most part already made up its mind about what Presley was and what he represented. He was loved then and is still loved today. Even Black artists like Little Richard and B.B. King, who have legitimate issues with Presley, can't help but respect the man (at least in interviews). There are a dozen different ways to look at the rise and fall of The King: as the ultimate symbol of American up-by-your-bootstraps success; as a lost young man who was failed by everyone around him; as the ultimate figure of white mediocrity profiting from Black excellence; or as a triumph of branding above all else.

"Elvis" star Austin Butler referred to Presley's place in American culture as "the wallpaper of society" (via The Hollywood Reporter). For anyone born in the last half of the 20th century or later, Elvis simply was; Butler's process as an actor was to pull Presley from that pedestal and see him as a human being rather than an icon (per The Hollywood Reporter). It was a grueling process for young former Nickelodeon star Butler, one that involved working with multiple voice coaches as he charted the evolution of Presley's singing style and reading and listening to everything he could find about Elvis (per GQ), to the point where Tom Hanks had to gently urge him to stop for his own sanity.