Sounding Board

Who Should Play Elvis In Baz Luhrmann’s Biopic?

After Bohemian Rhapsody made a vast pile of money last year, we are about to experience a boom in biopics about iconic musicians. And it would be tough to think of too many musicians more iconic than Elvis Presley. According to The Hollywood Reporter, there’s an Elvis biopic in the works. Moulin Rouge/The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann is on board, and so is Tom Hanks, who will play Elvis’ predatory manager Col. Tom Parker. That’s good casting! This could be fun! The problem, of course, is that someone is going to have to play Elvis.

Who could possibly embody Elvis Presley onscreen? It’s one thing if you’re Jack White, dropping by for a quick and funny cameo in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story. It’s another if you’re forced to spend an entire movie playing one of the sexiest, most charismatic superstars in the history of American popular music. That’s a tall order! Really, nobody should do that! Or it should be an experimental I’m Not There situation where, say, Keanu Reeves and Lupita Nyong’o and five other people play Elvis for a scene or two. Or it should just be a short character study of Elvis’ last days, with Leonardo DiCaprio going full weirdo on it.

Really, though, it should be the Rock. Just cast the Rock.

But that’s not what we’re getting. Instead, The Hollywood Reporter claims that five young actors have all tested for the role. Let’s have a look at the candidates.

Miles Teller. He’s young. He’s good-looking. He kind of resembles Elvis, with the dark hair and the sleepy eyes and everything. In Whiplash, he did a good job of portraying the stresses and frustrations of being a young musician. He has a history of being a dick, but that’s not necessarily disqualifying; Elvis had a history of being a dick, too. But Teller also has a persistent dead-eyed flatness onscreen — one that Nicolas Winding Refn is currently using in the avant-garde Amazon show Too Old To Die Young. That flatness would not work for Elvis. Also, this is what happens when Miles Teller goes in front of people and sings:

Ansel Elgort. He’s young. He’s good-looking. He doesn’t really look like Elvis, and he’s taller and gawkier than Elvis ever was, but that won’t matter if he projects sufficient levels of Elvisness. We know from Baby Driver that he can dance. And more importantly, he can sing.

The big problem with Ansel Elgort is that I’ve seen him in a bunch of things now and I’m still not entirely convinced that he can act. Maybe we’ll know more on that score after The Goldfinch comes out. And he has his own kind of arrogant charisma, but it’s less an Elvis arrogant charisma, more of a dick-at-the-party arrogant charisma. Also, I don’t love the idea of Elvis being played by someone named Ansel. Maybe that’s my thing.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He’s young. He’s good-looking. He’s already played one musical icon, taking on the role of the young John Lennon in the 2009 movie Nowhere Boy. (And this was young John Lennon, so it’s Lennon when he was trying to act like Elvis, which is about 30% of the way to playing Elvis.) He can be made to look like Elvis. And he can sing.

Taylor-Johnson is English, which isn’t great, but he can at least pull off an American accent. The real problem with Taylor-Johnson is that he keeps getting plugged into big franchises — as Quicksilver in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, as Kick-Ass in Kick-Ass, as the soldier guy in Godzilla — and making no impression whatsoever. If you’re going to play Elvis, you’re going to have to be the guy who everyone stares at when he walks into the room. I don’t see that for Taylor-Johnson.

Harry Styles. He’s young. He’s good-looking. He’s already been a pop star. Specifically, he’s been the type of pop star who induces immediate mob-screams, which is the kind of ineffable experience that nobody can ever really teach. He was shockingly good when he made his movie debut in Dunkirk. Sadly, though, his American accent sounds like this.

This is disqualifying.

Austin Butler. He’s young. He’s good-looking. He’s American, which is nice. I guess he can sing.

More importantly, I don’t know anything about this kid. (I guess he’s on a show called The Shannara Chronicles, which I’ve never heard of.) This kid is a complete unknown! Cast him!