The Elvis cast and director Baz Luhrmann on how they brought the King back to life
Making a movie about Elvis Presley is bound to come with a lot of wild experiences, but there was one scene in particular that had everyone involved with Elvis (out June 24) feel like they were somehow traveling through time.
While sitting down with EW for our Around the Table series, director Baz Luhrmann and cast members Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alton Mason, and Yola discussed the moment they re-created the opening night — July 31, 1969 — of Elvis Presley's legendary run at the Las Vegas International Hilton.
"We're sitting in those glorious booths and I'm amongst 200 extras — I've got my five hours of preparation on, but everybody's waiting for him," Hanks recounts, gesturing to Butler. "We were waiting for you, and the electricity of what we were shooting that day and the opulence of the set. And when it finally occurred, we all felt: There he is."
"The curtain came up and the music was blaring like crazy," Hanks continues. "We did it many times that day, but every time that curtain came up, we all felt the same way: There he is. We could not take our eyes off him, and essentially, we got to see an Elvis show over and over again, and not once did it flag. That's one of the most exciting days I've had on a movie in a long time."
Luhrmann, the director of Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby, cites that same day as his most surreal experience while making Elvis, and quite possibly his whole career. He was watching the extras lose their minds with excitement while watching Butler as Elvis perform, but it was the response of one crew member he's worked with for over 30 years that really hammered it home.
"He goes, 'Boss, I've worked on your Star Wars, and I've done your Superman, done The Thin Red Line. But what's going here? I've never seen anything like this,'" Luhrmann says. "He's like, 'I'd pay money to be here.' And I thought, Those extras would pay money to be here. They had the golden Willy Wonka ticket."
DeJonge, who plays Presley's first love and wife, Priscilla, was also present that day, and it was the first time she got to see Butler performing musically as Presley. "We watched on in disbelief," she says.
Elvis is laden with these jaw-dropping moments, as well a chance to watch artists such as Shonka Dukureh and Gary Clark Jr. contribute similarly mesmerizing, nearly spiritual performances. Watch the video above for more from the cast of Elvis on the film's making and how they captured the essence of an American legend.