Memphis in spotlight with ‘Elvis’ release

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:52 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The movie “Elvis” hits theaters Friday, June 24, 2022. And while the biopic centers on the King of Rock n Roll, several other Memphis legends play pivotal roles in the big screen extravaganza: think B.B. King, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The King of Rock n Roll returns to the big screen this summer, with actor Austin Butler stepping into blue suede shoes opposite Tom Hanks as his promoter Colonel Tom Parker for a kaleidoscopic journey through three decades of Elvis’ highs and lows.

Much of the first half of the film centers on Elvis finding his groove in Memphis, inspired by the music he heard in Black clubs on Beale Street.

New Orleans native Kelvin Harrison portrays Blues legend B.B. King, who took Elvis under his wing.

“They loved the fact that he was inspired. I think they were excited to have him in the club, excited to watch him adapt it in some way, you know what I mean. I think the beautiful thing about that time was that everyone was offering to each other,” Harrison said.

Grammy nominee Yola brings to life the legendary Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- another early influencer on the King -- and the “mother” of gospel rock.

”They’re influenced by her. They ran home from school to listen to her,” described Yola. “Everybody is borrowing -- beg, borrow and stealing -- from the playbook of her invention of like heavy distortion, taking the blues, bending and turning it into the shred that we know. Like all of this is the esthetic that we know – and that rocking tempo – everything – it starts with her.”

Director Bas Luhrmann shot the bio-pic in the Australian outback, painstakingly recreating Beale Street down to the paint on the bricks.

Model Alton Mason portrays Little Richard in a pivotal scene inside a Memphis nightclub.

“While we were there on Beale Street, we step into a time machine, and we look out the window and we saw the extras and our clothes, it’s like so period and so reflective of those times back then,” Mason said.

Actress Olivia DeJonge portrays one of the only characters in the film still alive today, Priscilla Presley, who she met after shooting wrapped.

DeJonge transformation into the King’s queen was intense.

“Oh my God! That was like a three and a half hour process every morning, let alone we did weeks and weeks and weeks of camera tests and fittings and hair and makeup tests. Just an insane experience, truly. t’s a world within a world within a world. I think Bas does that best. He creates these atmospheres where you feel drenched in the world that you’re in the midst of creating,” DeJonge said.

Even the music created for the movie “Elvis” is a world within a world, with classic hits mixed with modern takes by the likes of Doja Cat and Diplo.

The film puts the King and Memphis back in the spotlight when it opens June 24.

Related: 5 Star Stories: ‘Elvis’ hits theaters

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