The stars of the A24 biopic hit the carpet for the New York Film Festival’s centerpiece film on Friday, where they discussed their process for transforming into these characters for the project based on Priscilla Presley‘s biography Elvis and Me. The story follows Priscilla’s life, starting when she met Elvis in Germany in 1959 until she left him in 1972.
Before production began, Spaeny, who plays the title character, sat down with Priscilla and asked her all the questions she had about the role in order to ensure she portrayed her properly.
“It was so intimidating to take on this role and knowing that Priscilla was gonna see it,” Spaeny told The Music news. “I just wanted her to feel safe and feel like she could recognize herself in this story and this time in her life, which was sort of amazing but also difficult in many ways.”
Spaeny, who won the best actress award at Venice Film Festival, recalled the surreal feeling of watching the film for the first time with Priscilla sitting right beside her.
“That was absolutely wild,” she said. “But to get the standing ovation at Venice and then see her visibly moved by watching it and then hearing her that she felt like she watched her life through me and that she was happy with my performance was really everything.”
Priscilla filmed out of order for 30 days on a $13 million budget. During a Q&A after the screening —which Coppola missed in order to spend time with her mother who is sick — Spaeny explained that her hair, makeup and costume served as an anchor for her to know what time in Priscilla’s life they were filming.
“I’d be pregnant in the morning, and then after lunch, I’m 14 years old,” she said. “I could lean on anyone [on set] and go back to my notes and remember: ‘OK I’ve got the beehive on, this is what she’s going through now.’”
While Spaeny could turn to the real-life person she was portraying for advice and questions, Jacob Elordi, who plays the King of Rock and Roll himself, didn’t have that opportunity, so he had to rely on research. Considering he plays one of the biggest musicians of all time, he had a lot of material to go off of. He explained to THR that he read up as much as he could on the time period and the man himself, turning to films, music and interviews that tracked the artist’s whole life.
The Euphoria star also found it helpful to look at Elvis not as a historical icon but as a normal person. “The kind of first thing for me was just kind of disabling the mythology and attempting to play him as a human being and a person, who’s given a certain set of circumstances,” he said after the screening. “So, the whole thing all the time was just trying to walk the tightrope between being arguably one of the most famous people in the world and a human being at the same time and being honest with the love.”
Priscilla comes on the heels of last year’s Oscar-winning Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s biopic on the musical legend, starring Austin Butler as the King. Elvis was only the most recent in a long string of projects about Elvis Presley, but Coppola’s biopic about Priscilla is arguably the biggest take on her life. Elvis and Me was previously brought to the small screen in a 1988 TV miniseries.
Josette Halpert, who plays Becky, one of Elvis’ secretaries at Graceland, felt like it was about time for a film focusing on Priscilla, instead of one that sees her as Elvis’ wife.
“We hear a lot of Elvis’ side,” she told THR. “He’s an iconic human being, but I also think Sofia does such an incredible job of telling stories about incredible women, and it is time for Priscilla. It really is Priscilla’s moment. I mean, it’s always her moment.”
Costume designer Stacey Battat, a frequent collaborator of Coppola, echoed Halpert’s sentiment, explaining that the director is great at expressing the inner lives of women.
“I think people thought of Priscilla as like, ‘Oh my god. She won the lottery. She’s like Cinderella.’ But maybe it wasn’t exactly like Cinderella,” Battat told THR. “Maybe there was some other aspect to it that I think Sofia is the person to uncover.”