Baz Luhrmann is making a film about Elvis Presley. The story is reportedly about his early years and the relationship between Elvis and his manager Colonel Tom Parker who will be played by Tom Hanks. Baz co-wrote the script with Craig Pearce and I wonder about the source material. If you’ve been reading this site a while, you know I have a thing for Elvis. It started when I was 11 or 12 or so and I used to spend my summers in Hong Kong when my parents were divorced. Elvis was all I listened to, and somehow I got my hands on Albert Goldman’s infamously trashy biography. I’ve read a lot about Elvis through the years and, in my opinion, the definitive Elvis biographies are Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley which takes the reader from childhood to the death of his mother, Gladys, and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, which picks up from Elvis’s time in the army and ends, obviously, with his own death in 1977. Back to back, the books total over a 1,200 pages, about as extensive as you can get where Elvis is concerned. It is, I think, a fair portrait of a complicated and flawed superstar whose legacy is even more complicated and flawed as we continue to interrogate celebrity standards, and consider and reconsider our conditioning and blindspots. Is that what Baz Luhrmann is planning to deliver?
I don’t know what to think about this project. Because we all know Baz Luhrmann’s style. And I’m not sure that that style is what we need in 2019/20/21 – whenever this movie comes out – in a telling about Elvis’s life. Elvis has been glorified. Elvis has been vilified. What is the fresh angle here?
According to Deadline, the focus will be on Elvis and Tom Parker. As most people know, Tom Parker exploited Elvis. Colonel Tom was a scam artist. He wasn’t even a Colonel. He’s allegedly the reason Elvis, the biggest star in the world for a long time, never toured internationally. He’s the reason Elvis was in so many hilariously terrible movies. He’s apparently the reason Elvis turned down the opportunity to be in A Star is Born opposite Barbra Streisand. But you can’t blame Colonel Tom for everything. Elvis’s family and his background had a lot to do with why he was so… ill-equipped. Can you get all this nuance out of a Baz Luhrmann movie? Will it come down to the actors? Tom Hanks will do what he does. But who will play Elvis?
They’ve auditioned five actors: Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort (who seem like they’re always up for the same parts), Austin Butler, Harry Styles, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Miles is the one who most physically resembles Elvis but my vote is with the last two. Elvis was always a boy, even when he was a man. Harry Styles might be able to pull that off. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is very, very good at balancing vulnerability and aggression and pain – I saw him in A Million Little Pieces last year at TIFF, it was a gorgeous performance – and if he actually lands the Elvis role, it will mean he’ll have played both John Lennon and Elvis Presley. Look who shows up in the first frames of the Nowhere Boy trailer: