‘Elvis’ trailer promises sweeping storytelling, iconic imagery


Austin Butler is Elvis Presley in “Elvis.” In Baz Luhrmann’s biopic, the multi-faceted tale of rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley is brought to light. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Clara McCourt, managing editor

Elvis Presley is headed back to the silver screen in 2022. The trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s largely anticipated “Elvis” biopic dropped Feb. 17, teasing a story as enormous and euphoric as the rock ‘n’ roll legend himself.

The film follows Presley through three decades of life, from his humble beginnings in gospel music and carnival performances to global superstardom. The trailer teases different elements of Presley’s story, promising a vast narrative of his psychedelic highs and lows against the country’s contentious politics.

“In this modern era, the life of Elvis Presley could not be a better canvas on which to explore America in the ‘50s, the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Baz Luhrmann, the film’s director, at a virtual trailer launch event Feb. 7.

Luhrmann, a director known for his unconventional and extravagant filmmaking style, was first in negotiations to direct Presley’s story for Warner Bros. in early 2014. He penned the script with several collaborators including Craig Pearce, who also worked with Luhrmann on his smash hits “Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Great Gatsby.” Luhrmann said he was drawn to Presley’s life due to its mythical yet timeless qualities, many of which translate to a modern audience’s perception of American society.

“The great storytellers like Shakespeare didn’t really do biographies. What they did was they took a life and they used the life to explore a larger idea,” Luhrmann said.

Tom Hanks was cast as Presley’s controversial manager Colonel Tom Parker in 2019. Soon after, “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” star Austin Butler won the hotly contested role of Elvis Presley over leading man heavy-hitters Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller and Harry Styles. In the trailer, both Hanks and Butler appear unrecognizable in their roles — Hanks adopts a thick Dutch accent and heavy facial prosthetics, while Butler sings, shakes and gyrates in true Presley fashion. 


Courtesy Warner Bros.


“Elvis” joins the ranks of a long list of upcoming musician biopics, including a Michael Jackson biopic at Lionsgate and a Madonna biopic at Universal Pictures. Biopics racked up nominations at the 2022 Oscars, including “King Richard” leading the charge with six nominations. Butler, who was also at the virtual event, emphasized that his performance as Presley is more than a mere imitation.

“When I began the process of this, I set out to make my voice sound identical to his, and I held onto that for a long time,” Butler said. “What we sort of realized is you can impersonate somebody, but to find the humanity within and the passion and the heart is [what’s important]. Ultimately, I had to release myself from constraints and try to live the life as truthfully as possible.”

Butler explained that stepping into the shoes of an artist that was hailed as one of the most culturally significant figures of the 20th century was anything but easy. 

“When I first started, it really felt like when you’re a kid and you put on your father’s suit, and the sleeves are much too long, and the shoes are like boats on your feet,” Butler said. “Then as time passed, at least for me, I started to feel like I grew into it.” 

The trailer doesn’t shy away from Presley’s impact on modern sexuality, heavily highlighting the response the singer got for his provocative performances. Presley is largely credited as the harbinger of the sexual revolution starting in the late ‘50s.

“[Elvis] is the original punk in some regards, because [his audience] is not nostalgic. They’re not polite. He’s wildly provocative, how shocking he was. Now it’s our job: How do we translate the strange and shocking to a contemporary audience?” Luhrmann said.

Another important aspect mentioned within the trailer is Presley’s relationship to Black culture. Presley’s historical relationship to the Black community is often debated — some see him as “The King of Cultural Appropriation,” popularizing elements of traditionally Black musical styles such as blues and soul among largely white audiences. Others, however, see him as a champion of change who opened the door for successful Black musicians to enter the white, mainstream market. Presley was a known proponent of the civil rights movement, and the trailer references his response to Martin Luther King’s assassination.

“The number one thing about Elvis Presley’s journey is that Black music and culture isn’t a side note or a footnote. It’s absolutely the canvas on which the story is read,” Luhrmann said. “You have the civil rights movement, you have him creating a problem [for white Americans] in terms of jumping the race line.”

Presley grew up in largely Black cities in both Mississippi and Tennessee. The trailer highlights Presley’s attraction to gospel music, showing the star as a boy drawn into a church as if in a trance. Luhrmann and Butler explained that Presley’s roots in gospel and spirituality followed him throughout his life and career. Butler said this “incredible gift” truly grounded him in Presley’s story, detailing an experience he had while filming in a Nashville chapel.

“I got to go in there with 30 of the most incredible gospel singers, I stood in the center, and tears just poured down my face and I got chills down my spine,” Butler said. “So it was experiences like that along the way that really showed me how much gospel and spirituals influenced Elvis on a musical level, on a spiritual level, on the way that he moved, on the freedom of his body.”

Luhrmann introduced the trailer to a panel of journalists, detailing the care and hard work the film’s production took.

“We set out to make a motion picture that’s going to bring all kinds of audiences together, strangers to sit in communion in an amazing theater like this,” he said.

Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” swings into theatres June 24.