IN CONVERSATION WITH CAILEE SPAENY ON “PRISCILLA”

vor 2 months

It’s been almost a week since “Pricilla” premiered at the Delphi Film Palast in Berlin in the presence of director and screenwriter Sofia Coppola.

 

In “Priscilla”, we see the story of the King of Rock’n’Roll through different eyes, namely those of his wife Priscilla Presley, or rather Priscilla Beaulieu. Embodied by Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis, we experience a still rather unknown story, one that is visualized by more than 100 different, handmade looks in 30 days of shooting. We had the chance to have a quick chat with Cailee and get an insight into the creation process.

Cailee, how would you describe “Priscilla” as a movie and Priscilla as a person in three words?
Oh, gosh – three words? Immersive, colorful, and captivating for the movie, Priscilla as a person would be strong, beautiful, and kind. What were your first thoughts when you read the whole script and when you were approached for the role of Priscilla? Well, when I was approached for the role, I was very shocked because I just got a call saying, Sofia Coppola wants to meet you in New York. And so, that’s all I heard. I didn’t know anything about the movie or the role. Nothing. So I flew to New York. We had coffee, and then she eventually told me that she wanted to make a movie about Priscilla Presley. And, you know, I was so surprised that I didn’t know about Priscilla’s side of the story – especially because I grew up an Elvis fan. I liked the idea of her diving into this world, and this character made so much sense, but I didn’t know I got the role until a couple of months later. I just got a call; you got it. So it was shocking to me. The whole process just felt like an audition for the role. I don’t know. Sofia just saw something in me, and she went for it. She’s genuinely my dream director, and I’ve been watching all her films. You know, she’s the first person I ever thought: Who’s the person behind the camera? And then I watched her whole filmography work. First, it was taking on the fact that I was going to be working with my dream director, and then it was diving into Priscilla’s story, which I found so touching. And really, as it was to think about, you know, there were so many things I didn’t know about her life. Finally, to be able to tell her the story from her point of view was really exciting, I thought. It was obviously very daunting to take on because, at the end of this process, I knew that Priscilla herself was going to be watching this movie and having an opinion about what I did in the film. I so badly wanted to do it with such care and nuance. There were so many thoughts going through my head, and I started this process with a lot of excitement and plenty of fear.

You already mentioned you’re a Sofia Coppola fan yourself. So what’s your favorite movie, and what would you say makes her so special as a director in general?
Sort of a typical answer, but the first movie I watched was “Virgin Suicides”. Okay, I love all her films. I can watch any of them on repeat, but “Virgin Suicides” was the first one that sort of led me into her world. And I think the way she tells a story is so distinct now. That’s what you want in a filmmaker- someone who has confidence and a very specific view of the world. When you see a Sofia Coppola film, you know what? Sofia Coppola film. You know, so she’s very decisive and has such a specific view on her worlds, but also in the way that she looks at young women, she never underestimates them and permits them to be full people, which I think a lot of movies don’t really depict teenage women in accurate ways. She permits them to have dark sides, wants, needs, longings, and desires.
That was really refreshing for me as a young woman watching her movies. To be able to tell this story about Priscilla Presley, it is sort of complicated in a lot of ways, and it’s in a gray area at times. But I couldn’t think of anyone better to tell it. And then on top of it, the sort of visual opportunities to dive into a sixties Americana and have the backdrop being Graceland in the sixties, and the hair, the fashion, and the makeup are something that Sofia really uses in the way that she tells stories, not in a sort of superficial way, but leaning to the fact that these are kind of women’s standards. She knew what she was doing with that, and it’s such a rich world to dive into and use; it’s almost told in this impressionistic memory-type way. Yeah. So obviously, as you can tell by my rambling, I’m a fan.

I can definitely tell—the same for me. What would you say was your biggest challenge in the role of Priscilla?
It was being able to insert my own creative opinions and also balance that with being true to Priscilla’s story. And, you know, sort of making this for Priscilla and using that as a guide. The biggest gift I had to play this role was to get to sit down with the woman herself in this life and help with my research. But it was also the greatest weight to carry to develop that relationship with her. This is my moral obligation to make sure I get this right, but I also try to be creative and do my take of who I thought she was.

What influence did this role or the entire movie have on your life after filming? Has this experience somehow changed you?
You know, I went through a lot. It was very cathartic for me. I had just gotten out of a breakup when I was playing this role, so I felt like a lot of the things that she went through and the way she described what she was feeling in this relationship. I felt like I could relate to these emotions in my life. A lot of young men might relate to this story as well. I just found it very moving and cathartic. It sort of helped me process my emotions as I was telling the story, which I thought was so inspiring. The way that she reached for her own strength to find out who she was outside this person who was so magnetic and had such a presence. She then realized that she wanted more for her life. I hope that people, when they watch this film, have a similar experience to mine, because I think this was very good for me.

As you already said, it was quite easy for you to understand the role and empathize with Priscilla. But how do you like to decouple from a role when you’re coming home at the end of the day, getting back to being only Cailee?
You don’t really, because you’re shooting now for 30 days straight and you’re working really long days. I don’t think it ever really leaves you. Sort of a blessing and a curse that we shot it in 30 days. So I was sitting in that world for too long and too intensely. But the fact that I had to, and then you’re intensely in that environment, in that headspace for those 30 days straight, I definitely could barely eat when I got home. I did just sort of have a full face of makeup on and then collapsed on my bed and got the same thing all over again. But, you know, by the end of the month, you’re tired, and you go. I think the hardest part of leaving those films is, especially this one, that you’re so vulnerable in front of this group of people who put so much time, effort, and care into telling this story. And then, by the end of it, you might never see them again. It’s a weird sort of journey. So it takes a bit for you to go through the sort of post-movie blues afterward.

Interview by CAROLIN DESIREE BECKER

Credit: MUBI DE

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