A year after Baz Luhrmann’s gaudy musical biopic tracking the rise of Elvis Presley and his complex relationship with manager Col. Tom Parker, writer-director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette) arrives with her own vision of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, primarily focusing on the music icon (Jacob Elordi) and his much-younger wife, Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny), told through her eyes and based on Priscilla’s 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me.
“It’s like the greatest gift, and also such a massive amount of pressure to take on in terms of knowing that she was going to watch the film after this was all over,” Spaeny tells Yahoo Entertainment in an new interview. “But she was incredibly supportive along the way.”
Sure enough, Spaeny — a 25-year-old Missouri native who debuted on the big screen in Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) and has since been seen in The Craft: Legacy (2020) and Mare of Eastown (2021) — found herself seated directly next to her subject at Priscilla’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. “It was wild,” admits Spaeny. “I was white-knuckling it the whole time.
“But after the movie ended, she seemed visibly moved, and I think she saw her life through what we did, and that's all that matters.”
Neither actor took for granted the magnitude of playing the Presleys.
“They’re sort of impenetrable,” Spaeny says. “They’re like American royalty. So I think for figures like that, we’ve never really seen anyone like Elvis again. He’s such an icon. So I just don’t think we take the time to think about who they were as people and who they were behind closed doors. And I think that’s so fascinating about this story, especially telling it through her lens. I think people will be fascinated and it's refreshing to see the human side of them.”
While Luhrmann’s Elvis included some warts, Priscilla is a far less glossy portrayal of the rock pioneer. After the 24-year-old Elvis is seen wooing Priscilla, the 14-year-old daughter of an Air Force officer stationed in West Germany, and then marrying her eight years later, he is often portrayed as a controlling, manipulative and philandering husband. (They divorced in 1973, four years before Elvis’s death.)
Elvis star Austin Butler received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and came under scrutiny for going so deep into character that he was still speaking with Presley’s twang months later. Playing a different Elvis in Priscilla also struck a chord for Elordi, best known for his role in HBO’s Euphoria.
“For me, I had nothing but this overwhelming amount of love for him that just grew and grew and grew and to the point where it became and will forever be,” says Elordi. “It sounds sticky, but there is this spiritual connection that I'll have forever. Admiration and love.”
Priscilla opens in theaters Nov. 3.