After winning raves in Venice and a seal of approval from Priscilla Presley herself, Sofia Coppola‘s PRISCILLA arrives after much anticipation. The Toronto-made adaptation of Presley‘s Memoir Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N’ Roll tells the story from her perspective from the thrills of love and fame to the loneliness of isolation.
We had the honour of sitting-in on a chat with visionary Writer/Director Coppola and star Cailee Spaeny who plays the Film’s iconic titular character.
Sofia Coppola is asked what drew her to adapting this Memoir, written some 40-plus years ago.
Coppola: “I was reading Priscilla Presley’s Memoir and I never expected to get so involved in it. I was really surprised because I realized how little I knew about her. I was just really moved by her story and connected to the way she described everything she went through from being a girl to an independent woman after such an unusual circumstance. I had no idea she was in high school living at Graceland. I felt her story said so much about women of my mother’s generation and what all girls go through, but in this really unique way. And I wanted to dive into that world of ’60s Graceland American folklore.”.
Cailee Spaeny talks about growing-up with Coppola’s work.
Spaeny: “I think the thing I found so shocking, I grew-up in an Elvis-loving family. We grew-up going to Graceland and he was very much a part of my childhood. I knew that Priscilla went with Elvis and I’ve seen the iconic photos, but I didn’t know her side of things. So it was an exciting story to dive into and tell because it’s long overdue to tell her side of the story. And the way that Sofia wrote the Script, it was so visual. You could really feel the environment you were in. And also growing-up with Sofia‘s films – the way that she taps into young female stories is so rare in a lot of films these days. She always finds a true depiction of young teenage girls. I was excited to tell the story that hadn’t been told before, but with this Filmmaker. I couldn’t imagine anyone else telling the story.”.
Coppola talks to now being able to tell a story like this at her current stage of life, being a mother to teens.
Coppola: “I was really happy to have access to Priscilla and her being open to re-living that era, and she talks about it in such vivid detail, and gave so much insight. Picking it up at this stage in my life, I felt that I’d had experience making films, so I had this feeling that I now know how to make this. You always figure it out as you go, it’s always a challenge. You never really know what you’re doing. The idea of finding one’s identity always appeals to me. I’m also at the point in my life where I’m the mother of teenage girls, so I could really see the story from both perspectives. How could her parents let her go live at Graceland? And also what tension that brought. I just felt that now I have a different perspective that now I could put more into the story in different levels.”.
Spaeny talks about aging Priscilla Presley from age 14 to 28 in this Film.
Spaeny: “It was one of the biggest challenges to take on, for those ages to feel true. You do everything you can to map out the choices you’re going to make to differentiate. We shot this in 30 days and we shot it out of order, so you were really trying to find things along the way to help anchor yourself. We had an amazing Costume, Hair and Makeup departments that did so much research and brought so much love into telling the story. That was really key in me grounding myself to those ages, and also where she was emotionally through this journey. I think in Sofia‘s movies, everyone just brings their A Game. She creates such a collaborative environment and has a calming presence which helps when you have a challenge like this to take on. I felt really lucky.”.
Coppola talks about her biggest challenge in making Priscilla.
Coppola: “It was a new challenge for me. I’ve never worked on someone’s story that was alive and would see the story. It was definitely something I kept in mind and how do I also make sure that it’s a story that Priscilla feels represents her experience. The biggest challenge was to take such a big part of someone’s life and boil it down to the essence to fit into the length of a movie. How do I do that to give the impression of everything she went through so that by the end you have a sense of what her experience was like?”.
Spaeny walks us though her preparation process.
Spaeny: “First step was reading the Book and reading the Script, really diving into that and writing-out the biggest questions that I had. Taking that time to meet Priscilla and go through that chapter of her life. I always wanted her to feel comfortable. I never wanted her to feel I was interviewing her, I wanted it to come out naturally. She would go into these specific memories she had with him and it was really special the detail that she would talk about. But also, just taking in the presence of this woman who’s lived this life. It was like her eyes would sparkle again talking about certain moments. She’d laugh at an inside joke they had and it was these nuggets of gold that helped me put this massive puzzle together. Especially the way that Sofia tells it in this impressionistic, memory type of way that it was really those flash and nuances that I really wanted to absorb when I was around her. She’s a really fascinating woman, really graceful and soft-spoken, with a fierceness about her and very protective.”.
“You do as much prep as you can but then you just have to trust yourself.”.
Both Spaeny and Coppola comment about Jacob Elordi, who plays Elvis in the Film.
Spaeny: “I was a fan of his work so I was interested what he was going to bring to the table. I messaged him right away when I found out that he had the role. We met a couple times and I wanted to get a sense of who he was and wanted us to feel comfortable around each other, because I knew once we started filming it was going to be crazy trying to shoot this in 30 days. I wanted to make sure we felt comfortable around each other. He had my back throughout the entire process and he did so much research. He’s so naturally charismatic and wears his heart out on his sleeve, so it was so nice for those parts of him to come through. He was an Actor I always felt I could trust every day going into a scene. I knew he was going to have an idea to bring to the table and know how to flip something on its head. A lot of this Movie I’m reacting off of him so it was so essential that I knew I could trust him. He is such a giving Actor, I felt really lucky and it was such a joy to watch what he did every day.”.
Coppola: “It was really important to go by the perspective that Priscilla does in the Book, showing him as a human because he’s such a godlike figure in our culture and she talks about what he was like, their vulnerabilties and what they were like behind closed doors. It was so interesting to ride the highs and lows she went through and show his incredible charm, his vulnerability and also this dark side he had, and show it as the complex relationship that it was. It was important that he was never villainized, that we saw him as a human, that he was struggling and understand her story through that.”.
Elevation Pictures release PRISCILLA in theatres November 3, 2023.