It’s quite the Cannes Film Festival for first-time director Riley Keough.
Not only is she debuting her first movie as a filmmaker (“War Pony,” which she co-directed with her producing partner Gina Gammell), but her family history is the subject of Baz Luhrmann’s starry film, “Elvis,” which will make its world premiere next week at the festival. Keough is the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, played in the film by Austin Butler.
Keough joined Variety and Kering at Cannes for a Women In Motion conversation, where she said Luhrmann spoke to her family when working on his film, but she was never approached for a role, despite the strong resemblance she has to her grandmother, Priscilla Presley, and mother, Lisa Marie Presley. Keough also revealed that the trio of women watched the movie together. Reliving her family’s trauma on-screen caused her to cry during the screening.
“It was a very emotional experience. It’s very intense to watch when it’s your family,” Keough said. “The first movie I ever watched in the theater and said I wanted to make movies was ‘Moulin Rouge,’ I was 12. It was a real honor to know Baz was doing this movie. ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge,’ for the age I was at the time, were really powerful. It wasn’t like I distrusted Baz in any way, but you’re protective over your family.”
Keough said Luhrmann sat down with her and her family for several hours before he started filming “Elvis.” The actor’s family also gave the director inside access to Graceland, but no one had any impact in Luhrmann’s creative decisions for the film. As Keough said, “At the end of the day, we’re not going to tell Baz Luhrmann how to make a movie.”
“In the first five minutes, I could feel how much work Baz and Austin put into trying to get it right. That made me emotional immediately,” Keough said. “I started crying five minutes in and didn’t stop. There’s a lot of family trauma and generational trauma that started around then for our family. I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully.”
Luhrmann did not ask Keough to act in the film, nor was Keough interested in appearing in it.
“It’s a little too close,” Keough told Variety. “It’s intense enough to watch, I don’t want to act in it. It was never a conversation. I think there was a boundary there that felt respected in a nice way.”
Keough’s rave for “Elvis” follows in the footsteps of Lisa Marie Presley and Priscilla Presley sharing their own love for the film. Priscilla attended the Met Gala with Butler earlier this month. Warner Bros. is opening “Elvis” in theaters June 24.