The “Elvis” team was on hand in Cannes for a little more conversation about Baz Luhrmann’s boisterous musical drama — but how Tom Hanks landed on his mysterious European-American accent as Colonel Tom Parker in the movie will remain a mystery for now.
The Oscar-winning actor received the first question from journalists at the Thursday press conference, and was asked how he prepared for his role as Parker and whether he researched his Dutch background and accent.
Hanks skirted around any discussion of his accent work, and instead spoke at length about learning more about Elvis’ notorious manager, who “was a delightful guy” that could light up every room he came into.
“Was he a cheap crook that played fast and loose? Yeah, when it comes down to that, but I worked that all out to everyone’s satisfaction,” said Hanks, “He was a man who brought joy to everything he did — along with a bit of larceny.”
“Elvis” marks Luhrmann’s first feature directorial effort since 2013’s “The Great Gatsby,” which also world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Butler stars in the title role opposite Hanks as Elvis’ infamous manager.
While critics have praised Butler’s tour de force performance, Hanks’ extremely thick and at times indecipherable accent for Parker, who was from the Netherlands, has been singled out as one of the movie’s weaker turns, and some have called Hanks’ prosthetic nose and padding to resemble the heavy-set Parker distracting.
“I’m not interested in playing a bad guy just for the sake of, ‘Before I kill you Mr. Bond would you like a tour of my installation?'” said Hanks to laughs from the assembled media. “That’s okay. I get it, but I think that’s for other stuff. What Baz tantalized me with right off the bat was, here’s a guy who saw the opportunity to manifest a once-in-a-lifetime talent into a cultural force. He sought that and knew that about Elvis the first time he saw Elvis’ effect on an audience…He realized that guy was forbidden fruit and you could make an awful lot of money off of forbidden fruit.
“The amount of ways that Parker cheated people out of nickels and dimes and dollars is extraordinary, and in my own way I’ve incorporated some of that in my own life,” joked Hanks. “As far as his background, I think no one knew the Colonel’s background. There are some extraordinary, tabloidy, melodramatic stories about why and how he left Holland. I’d like to think, yeah, he was running away from an aspect of his past and escaping his small town, and who among us wouldn’t jump at an opportunity to do that very thing?”
Hanks called Parker a “mercurial and brilliant man who at the same time lined his own pockets.”
Elsewhere, Luhrmann was asked why he made an Elvis Presley biopic through the prism of his relationship with his manager.
“I’m a great admirer when Shakespeare takes a historical figure but explores a larger idea,” said Luhrmann, who then referenced the 1984 movie “Amadeus.”
“Is it really about Mozart, or is it about the jealousy between Antonio Salieri and Mozart?” said Luhrmann. “I wanted to take Elvis’ life and really the respect fans have for that character and the expression in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. It’s about the show and the business. The snowmen and the showmen. That’s what the big idea really is. But on the way, I researched living in the south and being embraced by Graceland, and I learned about Elvis the person. When you can think one thing about someone and come out the other end [thinking something different].”
The “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” director also spoke at length about getting “the best review I ever had” from Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla after she saw a cut of the film.
Luhrmann said he showed Priscilla a third or fourth cut of the film “much later than I would ever like to happen” but “no critique, no review, was ever going to mean more to us than the review of the person who was married to Elvis Presley. And I can’t tell you how long those two hours were when she went to see that movie.”
The director said he eventually got a message from Priscilla saying “I’m sorry it took so long, I had to gather myself.”
“She said, ‘I just wasn’t ready for that. Every breath of Austin, every move, the spirit of the person, the humanity, the man, not the icon, not the person that someone thinks they know because they made it up in their head. She said, ‘My husband was here today.'”
Butler, who had been driving to dinner with Luhrmann when he heard from Priscilla, said the message “brought tears to my eyes.”
“There hasn’t been a person I’ve never met that I’ve loved more than Elvis,” said Butler. “I lived with him for three years, so doing justice to his legacy and making the family proud, I could not be more overjoyed and I feel over the moon about that.”
The 30-year-old actor, who was cast in the role in 2019, also discussed how he became Elvis for the role, and learned how to balance a straight impersonation with imbuing soul into the character.
“It’s such a tricky thing because when I first started, I put these unrealistic expectations on myself that, somehow, if I worked hard enough I could make my face like his and my eyes like his and you couldn’t tell the difference,” he said.
“I realized at a certain point that that becomes like going to wax museum. What’s really important is that his soul comes out. It was finding the balance between getting as specific as I possibly could and that meant endless research… I would watch one clip of ‘Hound Dog,’ and watch one second of where his hand was and what it was doing and do that exactly in the mirror.
Added Butler: “The tricky thing was being there on the day and having it feel like it was happening for the first time. The reason he moved and spoke in that way, that meant finding his inner being. But then it’s like spinning plates because you want to go back to the specifics, so it was a constant back and forth.”
“Elvis” is one of the biggest titles to screen at Cannes, and its star-studded carpet at the Wednesday world premiere included Sharon Stone, Shakira, Kylie Minogue, Diplo, Jeremy O. Harris and Italian rock band Måneskin, which performed at an exclusive after-party.
Warner Bros. is opening “Elvis” in U.S. theaters on June 24. The film joined “Top Gun: Maverick” as the two Hollywood tentpoles to world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
In Variety’s largely favorable review of the movie, critic Owen Gleiberman said “Luhrmann has made a woefully imperfect but at times arresting drama that builds to something moving and true.”