Interpreter of Priscilla Presley, Olivia DeJonge presents the long-awaited “Elvis”, by Baz Luhrmann, just days before its out-of-competition performance at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
When Baz Luhrmann presents a film at Cannes, it’s always an event. After the Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby, Elvis will certainly confirm this. As usual, music will be a big part of the Australian director’s sixth feature. And even more than the previous times, as it will be a biopic dedicated to the King.
Interpreter for his wife Priscilla, Olivia DeJonge spoke with us about this long-awaited project. From her role to her collaboration with Austin Butler, who plays Elvis Presley, to filming and her vision of these mythical personalities.
AlloCiné: Did you meet the real Priscilla Presley to study her way of speaking and hear her tell the scenes you were going to play?
Olivia De Jonge : Covid has complicated all of this, so we haven’t crossed paths yet, but I can’t wait to be able to. But as I understand it, she saw the movie and loved it, and that’s all that matters to me. You are a very young actress.
What is the cast like auditioning for someone like Priscilla Presley?
As far as I’m concerned, I made an audition tape that I sent. And they called me three months later to tell me I had the part. It’s kind of crazy, in hindsight, that this happened thanks to this tape. but amazing too (laughs)
What was your reaction the first time you were told about the project?
As with many projects, I received an email informing me that this film was going to be shot and was invited to audition, while telling me I only had a few days to make it. So I started reading books, listening to music, then I went to make this tape with a friend. And the rest is history.
What memories do you have of the first day of filming?
On my first day, I attended one of the presentations. But not in Priscilla’s skin. And that was after the pandemic. Seeing Austin deliver that performance felt like entering another world. There was all the hard work that everyone put in blasting on stage, it was amazing. It was special and everyone seemed to be paying close attention at that exact moment, which I find rare. There everyone was very in tune with what was happening, and it was a beautiful day.
Watching Austin Butler do this was magical
Can you tell us about your style in the movie?
Priscilla’s hair and makeup were amazing. There was no technology back then, so all her choices about it were very intuitive and organic, which I find increasingly fascinating. Because it paved the way and launched as a trend of its own, simply. She wasn’t looking to Instagram to choose what she wanted to do.
She said what she wanted and why. And the film showcases some of her iconic looks. I spent a lot of time in the makeup and hairdressing chair, adjusting the wigs and makeup. So I can’t wait to see the result. I don’t know what it will look like on screen, but from what I’ve seen, I feel like we’re doing well.
What did you know about Elvis’ life?
Not much actually. I grew up listening to Elvis because my parents loved his music-like a lot of people my age, I think. But I didn’t know much about his life and that was the best part of my participation in this film: being able to know more about him, his life, his contribution to the music industry, about Priscilla… intriguing.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Priscilla?
It’s one of my favorite stories about her, and she tells it in her book: an obsessive fan was waiting outside her house, and she came out to confront her. She was ready to face him when she was in danger of being demolished. It really surprised me, but I loved it, because she showed her bite, the holy fire in her. But I remember reading it and thinking to myself: “But not !”
Can you tell us about your work with Austin, both in terms of their chemistry and seeing him perform these amazing musical scenes?
We were all lucky to have him as our captain in the film: he’s passionate and hardworking, which makes him an incredible scene partner. We had no problems getting started as we were so excited to be there.
One of my first great memories of filming was being able to watch one of his performances, and see him disappear behind the character as he sings and dances. It was amazing to watch, and it got the whole set excited every time we were treated to one of these performances. He worked hard and for a long time, for an incredible result. Watching him do that was magical.
It’s the first time you’ve played a real character. What kind of challenge did that pose for you?
It’s always a challenge to attack a real person. Because you hope to bring out something that hasn’t been seen before. And we always have the impression that the person is behind our shoulder when we shoot scenes. But I was in good hands and everyone was passionate about this project, both the team and the production company. They knew many things. Baz created an incredible environment of play and curiosity, in which there was room for error. He made the experience beautiful despite the challenges.
Now that you’ve done both, which do you prefer: the characters that already existed or the ones that need to be built from scratch?
I asked myself this question. Because both represent a challenge. It’s exciting to build on something that’s there, to be part of a legacy, like we did with Elvis. We were that troupe trying to recreate the magic. But it’s equally exciting to build a character from scratch, I think I like them both and I don’t want to choose one over the other. But I will be open to both possibilities in the future.
Is there something about Priscilla’s personality that stood out to you? Who makes you want to be like her in certain situations?
From the start, the way she expresses her femininity fascinated me. She’s a hyper-feminine girl, and that’s something I hadn’t explored as a young girl. Diving into that femininity, that attention to detail, that fascinated me. The way we present ourselves to the world, the psychology behind it. And that has stuck with me since we finished filming.
What can you tell us about what the film shows about the relationship and marriage between Elvis and Priscilla?
I can’t say much about the movie. But it covers Elvis’ life, then his relationship with Priscilla from start to finish. And I think of everything she gave up to be with him and support him. Because she knew what he meant to people. I hope their relationship is realistic in the film and that it feels like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the craziness that has been her career.
What was mythical about the couple formed by Elvis and Priscilla according to you?
If they transcended epochs, it is also because social networks did not exist. So a lot of what we saw of them came from magazines, newspapers or pictures here and there. People have always been hungry because they are so far removed from a world that seems out of reach. And I think that touches on how fame has changed in the age of social media. Still, I think they were a great couple and people were rooting for their romance no matter how complicated the relationship was.
Do you remember how you felt the first time you heard Elvis’ music?
I’ve been listening to it since I was a kid, and I think my favorite song is “Blue Moon”. His music is truly timeless and brings you back to the present moment.
Baz Luhrmann is very encouraging, he is constantly inspired by his surroundings
Watching a Baz Luhrmann film is an energetic, very cinematic and very crazy experience. But how is filming with him going?
Baz is unique in the way he works. He is constantly on the move, always curious. This is really how I would describe it if I had to use a word for it. He is very curious and intuitive, not afraid of anything. He’s very bold. And that was reflected in the gaming environment he created. He is very encouraging, he is constantly inspired by his surroundings. Being surrounded by that energy is a real gift, and you miss it when it wears off.
Was it intimidating to work on such a huge project?
Right ! In addition to telling the story of Elvis and his life, there before Tom Hanks. And Baz. So it was intimidating. But then again, everyone was nice: Tom, Baz, Austin. Improved the experience.
What does Baz Luhrmann mean to you? When did you first see one of his movies?
Baz is a legend because he is Australian like me. We all gather around ours. I first discovered your work when I was in the ninth grade. I took a media course where we analyzed Romeo + Juliet and Ballroom Dancing. I would like to find the dissertations I wrote about him. I think you would find it funny. I may have seen these films before, but my first distinct memory of their cinema dates back to when we analyzed them.
What made you want to be an actress?
I’ve been doing this job for a long time. From childhood. My parents aren’t in the industry, so they didn’t force me to do this. I just liked what I saw on screen and wanted to be a part of it. I remember being obsessed with PJ Hogan’s Peter Pan starring Jeremy Sumpter. Not only did I fall in love with him at age 12, it inspired me. Obviously it developed over time, and I took a more mature approach, but that’s how it started.
Maximilien Pierrette interview in Paris on April 21, 2022