Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has found his Elvis. After an exhaustive casting search not unlike the one that landed Carey Mulligan the role of Daisy in Luhrmann’s bombastic retelling of The Great Gatsby, it was announced today that Austin Butler will be playing Elvis Presley in Luhrmann’s long-developing biopic of the iconic recording artist, performer, and actor.
The film is set up at Warner Bros. and will chart Presley’s rise and zenith, putting a particular focus on his relationship with his manager Col. Tom Parker, to be played by Tom Hanks. The drama “will delve into their complex dynamic spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and the loss of innocence in America.”
Butler was arguably the least well-known actor who made the final shortlist, which included Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and One Direction frontman Harry Styles. Butler’s most substantial role to date was as the star of the short-lived fantasy TV adaptation The Shannara Chronicles, and he also had roles in shows like Switched at Birth and The Carrie Diaries. But it was his performance on the stage that first caught Luhrmann’s attention:
“I knew I couldn’t make this film if the casting wasn’t absolutely right, and we searched thoroughly for an actor with the ability to evoke the singular natural movement and vocal qualities of this peerless star, but also the inner vulnerability of the artist,” said Luhrmann in a statement. “Throughout the casting process, it was an honor for me to encounter such a vast array of talent. I had heard about Austin Butler from his stand-out role opposite Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway, and through a journey of extensive screen testing and music and performance workshops, I knew unequivocally that I had found someone who could embody the spirit of one of the world’s most iconic musical figures.”
Luhrmann co-wrote the screenplay with his longtime collaborator Craig Pearce, and Butler will next be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Given the recent success of music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman one imagines there’s a market for an Elvis movie, but what excites me is Luhrmann’s involvement. The one thing we know he won’t make here is something uninteresting.