'Elvis' Actor Luke Bracey Dissects the Friendship and Fame in Baz Luhrmann's Biopic

'It was a real pleasure to play...someone's best mate who cares about them as a person rather than the idea of them,' Luke Bracey says.
by Whitney Friedlander — 

Luke Bracey

Tim Whitby / Getty Images

For many of writer-director Baz Luhrmann's films, the idea is that it's all fun and theatrics until someone dies. 

This is also true of Elvis, the biopic about the musician Elvis Presley (as portrayed by Austin Butler) that opens in theaters on June 24. As told via the (unreliable) narration of his Machivelian manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), it starts out with what appears to be the beginning of the end for the King of Rock 'n' Roll before flashing back to the musician's youth and rising stardom. 

But Luhrmann's films are also known for having a character who is more of a moral compass. Whether it's Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) in The Great Gatsby, the poet Christian (Ewan McGregor) in Moulin Rouge!, or Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) in Romeo + Juliet, there's usually someone new, or tangentially, related to this world who notices that something is not right.

In Elvis, that's the singer's real-life friend-turned-manager Jerry Schilling. As portrayed by Hacksaw Ridgeand Point Breakactor Luke Bracey, the member of Elvis' "Memphis Mafia" — as his friends and cohorts were known in the press — was one of the few members of his inner circle who actually seemed to care more about Presley's well-being than how much income he could generate. 

Bracey tells Metacritic there was a lot of talk about the fact that Schilling was "the guy looking around and going, 'What are you all doing? Am I the only one who can see this?'" 

He adds that "that frustration and that disbelief that people can do that" and treat a human being like a cash cow "was a big part of his character."

"In a way, he's the audience and the fans," Bracey says of his character. "He's the one going, 'Why are we doing this to him?'"

Here, Bracey talks to Metacritic about this role, as well as Presley's lasting influence on pop culture. 

Elvis was an American singer who died before you were alive. He also famously, as depicted in the movie, never toured outside of the country. What kind of a presence does he still have in your home country, and the movie's filming location, of Australia?

There's a place in Western New South Wales, about a three-or-four-hour drive inland from Sydney, called Parkes that has a huge Elvis festival every year. The whole town, for a week, is just Elvis, Elvis, Elvis. I think my parents went just for a laugh one weekend with their friends. They said it was really interesting and really fun.

How much do you think his legacy is more kitsch or camp?

I think, to a degree, yes. When you've got people dressing up as him and marrying people in Las Vegas, I think that's going to have a certain effect on people's perception of him. But I think once people stop for more than 10 seconds and really think about it, it's hard to deny that he is such a monumental figure in worldwide culture. And he is such a giant. 

Did you personally know much about American pop culture at that time before you signed onto this project?

A little bit. But, obviously, you learn more when you get into it. I had a pretty general view of where he came from, and the kind of background and all of that. Obviously, diving into it, I really learned so much about it and found some songs that I didn't quite know that are now some of my favorites.

You didn't get to meet the real Jerry Schilling, but did you read his autobiography, Me and a Guy Named Elvis?

I didn't get a chance to. It all happened so quickly and I couldn't get a copy and I was too busy reading the script. When I got the job, it was a bit of a rush to get there. So I was flat-out reading the 100-something-page script. But I got to read up so much about him. And he's still a huge part of the community and is still very close with the family. There's plenty of stuff on YouTube and plenty of articles about him, and about his life, that I could dive into. 

I hope one day I get to, at the very least. get on the phone with him or meet him in person. That'd be really great.

Actors have to deal with a certain level of fame just by doing their jobs. Did you think about the fact that you were making a story about fame and the abuse and power-grabs that can come with it?

Yeah, but Jerry was Elvis' best mate. He was the one person that didn't want anything from him. The thing that comes with fame and only being a shiny person is that people want to take things from you, be that material things or money or just your attention and your time and your love. My character, Jerry, as a guy, he just cared for his friend and never wanted anything from him; just the best for his mate.

So, I have a lot of respect for Jerry that way. And it was a real pleasure to play that character, who is someone's best mate who cares about them as a person rather than the idea of them. 

Do you think Jerry is at all culpable in Elvis' death? Should he have tried harder to stop the Colonel or others from manipulating his friend?

I think, if you watch the movie, he's the one guy saying, "What the f--- is going on?" I think, just through those outside observations, you can see that he did care about him. He probably wasn't the one to be blamed, or to be looked at, in terms of the tragedy that was the end of his life. 

Have you thought about the Memphis Mafia and how it relates to the HBO show Entourage? That show's premise is that there's one very famous person and his friends and brother who work for him or just hang out with him.

I know of it. I don't know if it's necessarily a purely cultural thing. I think everyone wants their family and their friends around to experience things. It's a bit weird if you experience all these crazy things by yourself. So, one thing for Elvis, I think having all these people around, it was home. He wanted to have his mates around and people that reminded him of home and people that could have fun with him and not be so serious about everything. But then, obviously, it's a delicate dance between that and being taken advantage of by these people.

That's the thing with Jerry. He was, I guess, quote-unquote, in the Memphis Mafia, in a way. But he wasn't because had his own life. He moved into managing the Beach Boys. When they all got out to Los Angeles, he really pursued his own life and had that in conjunction with his friendship with Elvis. Him having his complete, other life rather than just being solely reliant on Elvis helped him try and get that perspective on good ideas and show business and how to continue the career. 

Jerry was pretty instrumental in Elvis' '68 comeback special and getting Elvis together with those producers and kicking him out of that stasis he was in with the movies in the '60s. So he was always advancing himself. And not just Elvis' mate.

Get to know Luke Bracey:
The Australian actor got his start on the soap opera Home & Away down under before coming to the States to appear in titles from Hacksaw Ridge (Metascore: 71) to Little Fires Everywhere (69). Soon he will also be seen in Interceptor (51).