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5 Star Stories: ‘Elvis’ hits theaters

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 10:54 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - “If there’s anything that’s a recipe for disaster it would be coming into Memphis for a movie about Memphis and did we do Memphis a solid?” Those are Oscar-winner Tom Hanks’ words about one of the most talked-about movies of the year, Elvis.

It hits theaters this weekend. Hanks and all the stars from the film were in Memphis and only Action News 5 got to take cameras behind-the-scenes to talk about the summer blockbuster, giving us another reason to love calling this place home and the Memphis screening a 5 Star Story.

And, if you think you know Elvis, you ain’t seen anything yet! The King is back on the big screen in a hip-shaking, lip-snarling extravaganza that tracks the Tupelo-born Memphis transplant’s career over three decades -- with the Bluff City as both his maker and his muse.

“I’m gonna say right now the only reason I know Memphis, Tennessee, was the song ‘Long distance information, get me Memphis, Tennessee.’ But that didn’t mean anything without Elvis Presley,” expressed Hanks.

The two-time Oscar-winner plays Elvis’ long-time promoter Colonel Tom Parker and was in Memphis for a screening of the film at Graceland.

Audiences have been waiting more than two years for the spectacle to hit theaters in part because of Hank’s high-profile pandemic diagnosis.

“Because of the break from COVID...and you’re welcome,” joked Hanks, who also told us the pause in director Bas Luhrmann’s Australian production -- where Beale Street was built in the Australian outback -- gave the cast and crew time to more fully explore Memphis’ impact on the King of Rock and Roll.

“So here is this great conflict of all these societal forces that are coming together that are altered by a guy putting his heart and soul into a song. That’s pretty cool for Memphis. That’s alright … mama,” Hanks mused.

Austin Butler -- who sings all the Elvis hits in the film -- endured months of vocal and dance training before perfecting his pompadour and jumpsuit swagger for the legendary role.

The actor recalled visiting Graceland for the first time shortly before shooting began.

“I had just been entrusted with this opportunity to explore his life, but I still felt like an imposter ... I went over there and they just let me kind of walk around the house by myself and just feel it. And it was so moving to me,” Butler recalled.

The Bluff City became the backdrop for Butler to explore -- and later embody Elvis -- in a way that matched the production’s fever-dream esthetic.

“It’s Elvis the rebel. Elvis the birth of punk rock, in a way,” explained Butler, adding, “When you hear the stories and you see the images of him rolling around on the stage and him spitting on the stage – just the chaos and animalistic excitement – like that’s the Elvis a lot of people aren’t really aware of.”

And that’s the Elvis director Bas Luhrmann wanted to find when he set up his own workspace inside the Graceland archives, who first came to Memphis 5 years ago.

He pored over a collection of more than 1.5 million items including 90,000 images and 5,000 articles of clothing.

Luhrmann and his wife, costume and set designer Catherine Martin, are masters of detail. But, with a movie run-time of more than 2 and a half hours, plenty of pivotal moments in the King’s career didn’t make it, though true Elvis aficionados will pick up on the nods left on the cutting room floor.

“I’ve got a big headline for you – it’s not just a nod, we actually in that scene shot Austin going, ‘Dolly wants me to record a new song.’ And he goes, ‘If I, would stay … I would only get in your way’ and he turns to Priscilla and she says, ‘What’s that?’ and he says, ‘It’s a song Dolly Parton wants me to record and she says, ‘Why not?’ and he says, ‘Because of the Colonel.’”

Back to the Colonel -- while this is Elvis’ story, it’s told through the voice of his promoter - loved by some, hated by others - definitely a part of the King’s rise and fall.

“This is the diabolical genius that he was,” Hanks said. “He was never fully in charge of these decisions. There’s a moment where the Colonel says, ’Whatever happens, that man has to be up on that stage.’ And before the deed is done – what does the colonel do? He says, ‘Well, Vernon – the father of my client – what is it that you would like to do?’ And just by that little Kung Fu, Aikido, do-si-do that he does right there – is he a villain or is he a genius?”

While the verdict’s still out on that one, one thing’s for sure. “Elvis” shines a spotlight on Memphis we can all be proud of. And for that we can say, “Thank ya, thank ya very much.”

The film received a 12-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. You can watch the movie in theaters new you on starting Friday, June 24, 2022.

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