Sofia Coppola’s upcoming biopic Priscilla delves deep into the glamorous, almost mythic world of Elvis Presley and his relationship with wife Priscilla, peeling back a side of the megastar that some will undoubtedly find uncomfortable to witness.
Priscilla will be playing at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, hitting general theaters on Nov. 3. It is adapted for the screen from the titular lead’s book Elvis and Me. On Oct. 6, the stars and production team dove deep into the movie’s creative process at Lincoln Center.
The film steers away from the “Jailhouse Rock” singer’s time on stage or the glitz and glamor of his iconic musical career. Instead, and somewhat controversially, strips back the legendary man who has become synonymous with Americana itself, revealing a deeply flawed human figure.
“I grew up going to Graceland as a kid, so I understood the weight that he [Elvis] carried,” said Cailee Spaeny, the actress portraying Priscilla Presley. “I have a memory of my dad walking around Graceland and ‘If Like a Dream’ is on the speakers, and he starts crying, so I really understood the weight of this man.”
Elvis Presley is portrayed by Jacob Elordi as a loving man who is also shown to be somewhat mentally unstable — reliant on pills to fully function and prone to furious outbursts. Yet, perhaps most disturbing of all, he is portrayed to have groomed Priscilla when she was still just a teen in school.
Spaeny’s performance underscored Eldori’s, as she portrayed Priscilla as a wide-eyed girl caught up in the mystique of a man who showered her with gifts such as dresses, jewelry, and makeup — a man the whole country was enamored by, yet turned his attention to her.
“I had no idea of her [Priscilla’s] side of the story. And, you know, I’m surprised that this wasn’t sort of common knowledge on her side, so definitely it was new to me and the sort of shocking, heartbreaking details and sort of their journey and relationship from her point of view,” Spaeny said.
The audience sees the world through a collection of life moments and only from the perspective of Priscilla herself—whether that be in incidents of strength and confidence as she grows with age or moments of confusion as a fresh-faced teen. Costume designer Stacey Battat addressed this, stating this process of a child being pushed into adulthood is also exhibited through her wardrobe.
“I think it helps to find the nuances,” Battat said. “You find the character and all those things kind of together, like I’m making the costume but they’re playing the roles so it’s really a collaborative effort to find those details. I [think] that this is true, that it’s somehow a child playing dress up.”
Through the film’s fragmented style of storytelling, Elvis’ actor Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny say they had to religiously study each decade of the characters’ lives—especially since the entire movie was filmed in about 30 days.
“I sort of built Elvis as well and Cailee built Priscilla and I think we kind of met in the middle of those gaps to where we were both just, we had our own language, I think, of the entire timeline, not just what was shown on the screen,” Jacob Elordi said.
Despite the short filming time frame, the production team did a copious amount of research using blueprints of Graceland, personal and public photographs of Elvis’ home and special moments. Production designer Tamara Deverell shared that the wedding scene almost completely mirrored the original photograph down to the candles, flower arch, and cigarette in Elvis’ mouth.