BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Cailee Spaeny grew up in a family that loved the music of Elvis Presley. She knew all about the iconic rock star’s music but only had a general knowledge of his personal life. She got a real education to that part of Presley’s story through the script by Sophia Coppola for the new feature film “Priscilla.”
The movie – playing in local theaters now – looks at the life of Presley through the eyes of Priscilla Presley as played by Spaeny.
“I obviously knew Priscilla went with Elvis, but I didn’t know her side of things,” Spaeny says. “It was an exciting story to dive into and tell. I think it is long overdue to tell her side of the story.
“The way the script was written – that Sophia wrote – was so visual. You could really feel the environment you were in,” Spaeny continued.
Coppola – who also directed “Priscilla” – based the script on the book Elvis and Me written by Priscilla Presley. The film paints an edgier portrait of the rock-and-roll superstar than is often portrayed in biopics.
The film starts with Elvis and Priscilla meeting in Germany where he was stationed during his time in the Army. She was a ninth grader living with her parents. The film continues through Priscilla moving to Graceland where she finished high school, her marriage to Elvis and the loneliness of his being away from Memphis to work on a film or tour.
Spaeny – who picked up the award as best actress at the Venice Film Festival – plays Priscilla from a young teen at 14 years old to a new mom in her late 20s. The film is the biggest acting role to date for Spaeny.
Spaeny’s first big acting job was in the science fiction film “Pacific Rim Uprising” in 2018. Since then, she has appeared in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “On the Basis of Sex,” “Devs,” “Vice” and “Mare of Easttown.”
She grew up watching films by Coppola such as “Lost in Translation” and “The Bling Ring.” The confidence she had in Coppola as a director was a big reason Spaeny was willing to tackle the role in “Priscilla.”
“The way she sort of taps into young female stories, I find so rare in a lot of films these days,” Spaeny says. “She always finds the true depiction of young, teenage girls. I was excited to tell this story that had not been told before with this filmmaker.”
Spaeny came to the project with the limited knowledge of Presley outside his music. Once she landed the role, Spaeny read Elvis and Me and then dove deep into the script. Her biggest help in playing the role was getting to talk with Priscilla (who is an executive producer on the film).
During their chats, Priscilla would go into detail in recounting the past. Spaeny found the insights to be helpful in playing the role. She also found just being able to talk wit Priscilla gave her a bigger understanding of the woman who married Elvis.
“Her eyes would sparkle when she would talk about certain moments. She would laugh at inside jokes they had. It was these sort of nuggets of gold that helped me put this massive puzzle together especially in a way that Sophia tells it,” Spaeny says. “It was really those flashes I wanted to absorb.
“She is really such a fascinating woman. She is very graceful in the way she holds herself. She is very soft spoken. She also has this fierceness about her.”
Spaeny went into the project feeling a great sense of responsibility to be able to tell Priscilla’s story in the most honest and respectful way possible. Concerns she had faded after getting to sit down with the woman she was portraying.
Those meetings helped but Spaeny always felt a certain amount of intimidation knowing that there would come a time when Priscilla would get to see the work Spaeny did in playing her. Coppola told her that the first time Priscilla saw the movie, she just said “that was my life.”
“Priscilla” was a case of actor and director needing to have complete faith in each other. The film was shot in a scant 30 days covering a 14-year span. There were days when Spaeny would have to portray Priscilla in two or three different years.
“You do everything you can to map out the choices you are going to make to differentiate but we shot it out of order,” Spaeny says. “You really try to find things along the way to help anchor yourself.
Spaeny got a lot of help from the makeup, hair and wardrobe department. She was able to shift to different time periods in Priscilla’s life through costuming and makeup.