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Elvis Producer Gail Berman Remembers the Late Lisa Marie Presley – The Hollywood Reporter


After a career spanning decades and industries, producer Jill Berman needs no more accolades on her resume. She has produced theater (including the Tony-nominated original play for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat in 1982 (TV)Buffy the Vampire SlayerAnd angel And the last Netflix Wednesday) and animated films (Addams family). She has served as President of Paramount Pictures and Producers Guild of America. But, surprisingly, Elvis It’s her first foray into a feature film, and she just so happens to be responsible for her first-ever Academy Award nomination.

The road to bringing Presley’s story to life wasn’t easy — COVID shut down production, and star Tom Hanks was among the first celebrities to contract the novel coronavirus in 2020. Finding an actor to take on the iconic role of Elvis Presley also proved tricky. But in the end, Austin Butler carried the movie to a whopping eight Academy Award nominations. The film was shot exclusively in Australia, under the watchful eye of director-producer Baz Luhrmann and his marital and creative partner, Kathryn Martin, who is also nominated for an Academy Award this year for costume design and production.

Berman recently spoke with THR About how you managed to bring Elvis From a fleeting idea in her office to the massive cinematic success it is today.

Can you tell me about your engagement story? Elvis?

A friend of mine named Mark Graboff went to a company called Core Media, which owns a bunch of different properties, [including] Elvis estate. My crew and I would sit down and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do something with Elvis? But what would it be that would move the ball forward and tell the story in a way that hadn’t been told before?” Baz Luhrmann’s name popped up in the conversation. I was like, “That’s it. Buzz, using it for music, checking it out for America…” I picked up the phone, called Mark Graboff, and said, “Here’s my show: Buzz. Elvis. He said, ‘That’s a good idea.'” I said, “It’s Good idea, isn’t it? Let me run with it.” Then I called Buzz’s agent. A few days later he called me [back] And Baz said it was fun. I went to see Baz [and] He spent several hours with him. By then I had formed a few more ideas, and really sat back and listened to him talk about it. He knew a lot about Elvis and a little bit about how interested he was in telling the story.

And then when you’re looking to cast Elvis – what was that casting like?

It’s a six-month process. It is not a typical audition in and of itself. Buzz’s casting process is very different from others I’ve participated in. At a certain point, I got a call from him saying, “I’m ready to show you screen tests.” I didn’t know who his chosen one was. When I came along, I was watching them blindly without knowing, and to me, it was very clear that Austin was the one. We flew to Los Angeles two days later and showed it to the studio.

Obviously the big challenge was the COVID delays. How did you manage to cross that finish line?

We were all in Australia, January of 2020, doing table reading. Everyone was there: Tom Hanks, Austin, and the rest of the cast. We were supposed to start shooting sometime after that. Very shortly after that, I got a call from Warner Bros. – It was absolutely amazing, the news that Tom Hanks and Rita are [Wilson] Both were infected with what was then known as the coronavirus. It was a pretty scary call, mostly because none of us knew what the ramifications would be, for both Tom and Rita’s health. And then, of course, the movie. Warner Bros. told us. It will close the movie. It was devastating on so many different levels. I moved back to LA because I was doing pilot work. That pilot has been closed. Then we all shut down. And what I saw during that time was the great production capacity of Baz Luhrmann and Katherine Martin. They were great partners, they were on the ground in Australia, doing the production work there. Our five-member partnership [also including Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss] They each had a different area during this whole thing. I was in Los Angeles, and Patrick was in New York. Austin remained in Australia. He was committed to getting that work done and wanted to be ready, should that happen. Then Tom [Hanks]And, amazingly and sweetly, he decided he was going to go back and do it. We compiled it in August, and we launched it in August of 2020.

What did the Oscars campaign look like on your end, and what was Lisa Marie Presley’s involvement in the campaign like?

Lisa, who was not involved in the making of the movie, came to see the movie and saw it on her own at Warner Bros.’s Steve Ross Theater. It took her about five days after watching it to really process her thoughts for Buzz. May you rest in peace, I loved this movie. I thought, finally, about accurate shooting [of] The beauty of the man, the beauty of the music, and the beauty of the rebel were narrated. She was very happy with it. She decided, completely independently of us, that she wanted to be supportive of her, Austin and Buzz, and opened up her Graceland home to us. Not only did we do the Memphis premiere at Graceland, but she set up a special event for us, a BBQ at Graceland where she opened the Jungle Room for us to have a cocktail party – and apparently that hasn’t happened in many, many years. There she and her daughters were. Everyone has been incredibly supportive of this movie. We are all in an enormous amount of grief to know that we have lost her. I only knew her during this time period. She was such a likable, soft-spoken person and so excited about this movie. Her love truly penetrated all of us. It was so heartbreaking – hearing the news was devastating for all of us.

How does this compare to the other diverse projects you’ve been a part of during your career?

It’s been a journey of 11 years. I think when you go on a creative journey that lasts a long time, it touches you in a way that you feel like you’re going to hold on to in order to see it through to fruition. Not every project has this emotional tug. I also learned that if something was bothering you, and you kept coming back to it, that’s where the success story would be, just in your gut. You just kind of feel it. This was pretty much from the start.

Aside from the Best Picture nomination, which is obviously the biggest nomination, there are seven other nods for this movie. What are you most excited about?

Well, let’s talk about the three women: Mandy Walker, our cinematographer, [only the] Third woman ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Cinematography. No woman has ever won. I’m so excited about that. Working with Catherine Martin – Costume and Production Design. We have three women who are in this movie and they’ve had an incredibly long journey together. I’m the third girl. It was such an amazing experience for me, to get to know and work with these women. Now, of course, we’re thrilled to be in the mix on everyone’s part [it]editorial, musical, etc. But I have to say that the journey of these three women is a separate one that I really enjoyed.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the independent February issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.