Tom Hanks Says Baz Luhrmann Pitched ‘Elvis’ as Shakespeare with ‘Millions of Dollars Thrown Into It’

Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is sure to be one of the more polarizing music biopics ever, with its flashy trailers generating plenty of discourse in recent months. While much of the discussion has centered around the Australian director’s famously maximalist style, much attention has also been paid to Tom Hanks. The “Forest Gump” star dons a fat suit and utilizes an unfamiliar accent to play Elvis Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, prompting plenty of strong opinions about his performance.

In a new interview with EW, Hanks opened up about the research he did about the shadowy power broker and what ultimately convinced him to make the movie. The actor said that he was interested in the codependent role that the two men had, and the way their intense business relationship ultimately shaped American culture.

“Baz said, ‘There would’ve been no Colonel Tom Parker without Elvis. And there certainly would’ve been no Elvis without Colonel Tom Parker.’ And when he said that, I said, ‘Oh, well, okay, now that’s brand new,’” Hanks said. “Because I don’t know what Colonel Tom Parker looks like. I don’t know what he sounds like. I’ve never seen a photograph of him. He’s never been identified as anything other than this mercurial or puppeteer-like, quasi-evil, greedy manager that took advantage of Elvis from the get-go.”

That way of looking at the character prompted Hanks to question why Parker played such a prominent role in the version of the Elvis story that Luhrmann had chosen to tell.

“Why include the Colonel in all of this?” he said. “One reason is because the Elvis story has become a trope. Everybody’s very familiar with it. And I don’t think it had been done the most righteous justice in order to capture why Elvis was this bend in the river of American culture.”

Hanks was also intrigued by the Shakespearean power struggles at play, especially since he had just finished playing Falstaff in a production of “Henry IV” when Luhrmann approached him about the part.

“I told Baz, ‘But you’re describing Falstaff and Hal,’” Hanks said after hearing Luhrmann’s initial pitch. “And Baz said, ‘Exactly, except with millions of dollars thrown into it.’”

That Shakespearean sensibility prompted him to take on the challenge of playing Col. Tom Parker, although Hanks is adamant that he is far less important to the film than Austin Butler.

“Playing Elvis is like playing Jesus,” he said. “And it doesn’t really matter who plays Pontius Pilate because if you have a good Jesus, you got it.”

“Elvis” is now playing in theaters. 

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