The 2022 film "Elvis" continues to receive accolades, having recently been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for star Austin Butler. The story of Elvis Presley was directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann, focusing on the life of the iconic performer, of course, and his nefarious manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks. But there are so many moments where actors with smaller parts shine. Olivia DeJonge is a standout as Priscilla Presley, despite not having a ton of screen time. Yola's work as Sister Rosetta Tharpe made me want to pause and rewind fairly consistently.
The fact that performers with only a small amount of screentime stood out so much wasn't an accident, according to a discussion Luhrmann had with the film's composer, Elliott Wheeler, on a Warner Bros. Pictures YouTube video called "Baz Luhrmann's Elvis: The Story of the Score." During the chat, Luhrmann discusses one particular performer's work and why his films don't have extras.
'That's Where The Spontaneity Came From'
Though you are not technically considered an extra if you have a single speaking line, it's evident in what Baz Luhrmann is saying that he's referring to smaller roles in general. He says in the video:
"I think this is true in our musical world; you do it, Ell [Wheeler], I do it with the actors, we create an environment in which everyone is so absorbed in the process. There are no extras in our movie; there are, you know, support actors. So that everyone is so prepared as an ensemble, so that if you say, could you do this — because Kodi (Smit-McPhee) was that character, and because Kodi was there that night, and because his character was going 'How would Elvis — I wanna sing like that new kid that's with us,' he could do it [sing his song in the style of Elvis] because he was so secure in character. That's where the spontaneity came from."
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who has appeared in films like "The Road," "Let Me In," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and "The Power of the Dog," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, plays singer Jimmie Rodgers Snow in "Elvis." Jimmie is the son of famous "I've Been Everywhere" country singer Hank Snow (David Wenham), both of whom were represented by Colonel Tom Parker when he discovered Elvis.
'I Wanna Be Just Like You'
In the film, Jimmie brings Elvis to the attention of Tom Parker, who slowly dissolves his working relationship with Hank Snow to focus entirely on Elvis' career. As we watch Hank get more and more flustered by Elvis' popularity and what he considers to be inappropriate and suggestive movements on stage, his son Jimmie transforms. At first, he begins to dress like Elvis, and by the last time we see him perform — with the song "How Do You Think I Feel" — he's not only moving like the man he admires, but he's singing like him as well. Small or not, it's a powerful role, showing the differences between generations and how Elvis' moves, clothing, and looks changed the music business forever.
Whatever you think of the narrative and the final film, one of the reasons Luhrmann's work sticks in your head is that even when it's focused on the main characters, you know every face that pops up is going to shine or stand out in some way.
"Elvis" is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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