Here’s How ‘Elvis’ Biopic Director Baz Luhrmann Went About Casting the Rock Icon

by Allison Hambrick

When Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic was announced, audiences immediately questioned which actor should step into the King’s shoes. Luhrmann chose former child actor and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star Austin Butler. With good looks and musical talent, it’s easy to see why he chose Butler. However, the filmmaker said he looked for more than a pretty face.

“When I went through the process on Elvis, I had no prejudice,” Luhrmann explained. “There’s a difference between an impersonation, a big difference between an impersonation, and illuminating the soul and the inner life of a character who’s unimaginably famous. What are they like in a private moment?”

To Luhrmann, the most important part of a biopic is capturing the real person, not the icon. This is a trend among filmmakers. Aaron Sorkin said the same thing when dealing with the casting controversies surrounding Being the Ricardos. The theory behind it makes sense. If an actor truly understands the character, audiences can overlook visual differences. For example, Academy Award-winner Rami Malek wasn’t exactly a dead ringer for Freddy Mercury, but his performance was critically acclaimed.

‘Elvis’ Director Opens Up About Importance of Casting

Additionally, Luhrmann discussed how casting can make or break a movie. As a result, he makes it a point to put all of his actors through an intense audition process.

“I mean, casting is something I’m always thorough about, and in fact, even people I love and adore, I go through a process because I don’t do auditions,” Luhrmann said. “I do workshops, I actually bring someone in the room. And even if everyone else, including myself thinks it’s probably not right, I see it as my job to make sure that person gets the role.”

Luhrmann used that process when finding the perfect cast for the Elvis biopic. Aside from Butler, the film stars Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Gladys Presley, among others. Finding actors to fill such iconic roles is no easy task. Even so, Luhrmann delights in the idea of working with well-known actors in unusual roles. Casting Hanks as Elvis’s manager gave him the chance to see the “Rolls Royce of actors” in action.

“When it comes to Colonel Tom Parker, I really enjoy – one of my great joys in life is working with well-known actors who are very well known for certain strings on their instrument,”  explained Luhrmann. “But I thrill at the idea of being useful, just supportive, in allowing – every actor always has so much more to give than you ever see from them. They always have so many more strings on their instrument than they get to play.”

Elvis hits theaters on June 24, 2022.