Olivia Dejonge loved getting all dolled up to play Priscilla Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama, Elvis. But as much as she wanted to embody the glamor of the famed businesswoman and ex-wife of Elvis Presley, she also wanted to reveal the regular person beneath all that glitz and glimmer.
“For me, it was just about playing her not as a normal person, obviously, but as a young woman, rather than this caricature that we oftentimes cement people into historically, particularly women,” the 23-year-old Aussie told MovieMaker. “I just wanted to
bring more depth than how we often remember women.”
But just to reiterate: She loved getting into costume every day.
“The hair and makeup were insane,” she says. “Every day was like stepping into another person. The transformation process was so much fun for me. Playing a character that’s so iconic for her looks — to recreate those looks was an incredible experience.”
But Olivia DeJonge’s role as Priscilla Presley was not the only project up her sleeve at the time we spoke to her in the spring, ahead of Elvis’ theatrical release. Since then, she’s also appeared in the HBO drama series The Staircase, based on the true story of the complicated criminal case surrounding Michael Peterson (Colin Firth) and the death of his wife, Kathleen (Toni Collette). DeJonge played Kathleen’s daughter, Caitlin Atwater. Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner and Mothering Sunday star Odessa Young played the Petersons’ adopted daughters, Margaret and Martha Ratliff, respectively.
DeJonge doesn’t have an opinion as to whether Michael Peterson killed Kathleen. But she did binge Netflix’s The Staircase
documentary, which clocks in at 13 episodes and just over 10 hours, in a single day.
“Particularly because I was a part of the retelling of the narrative, for me, the importance is just about telling the story and not so much having my own opinion on it,” she says.
She also chose not to consult with the real Caitlin Atwater about playing her.
“Honestly, I think in that regard, when you’re dealing with something that happens to real people, it’s respectful to keep your distance,” she says. “Caitlin has moved away from the narrative and I think, respectfully, you have to honor that.”
Add Collette and Firth to the list of heavyweight actors DeJonge has had the privilege of working opposite as of late, along with Tom Hanks, who plays Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis. DeJonge describes him as — what else? — “a really, really lovely man.”
She also had a grand old time with her co-star Austin Butler, who plays the King himself.
“We wanted the scenes of them together to feel very intimate, where we see both of their characters without their guard up,” she says. “For us, it really was just about bringing that element of play to the characters. Their relationship was like a breath to him, particularly through his life and where it took him and his successes and his triumphs and his pitfalls. It was just about creating
play and love and having those things on screen be really meaningful and deep.”
Prior to Elvis and The Staircase, DeJonge most recently appeared as Josie Raeburn in Sarah Lancaster’s directorial debut, Josie & Jack, and Netflix’s teen drama, The Society, as Elle Tomkins. She’s been acting on a large scale since she was “a very young
child,” having taken acting lessons as a kid growing up in Melbourne, Australia. She landed her first job in the U.S. when she was
14, in Caryn Waechter’s 2014 debut feature, The Sisterhood of Night, which follows a group of teenage girls accused of doing demonic things in the woods, à la the Salem Witch Trials. She credits her success in part to her parents.
“I have really great parents who are super supportive and not at all like stage parents, which was very, very special and quite rare, I think,” she says. “My parents both work in business. I didn’t come from an arty family. I just got the bug early on and I couldn’t let it go.”
Olivia DeJonge has waited a long time for Elvis and The Staircase to finally see the light of day. She shot both during the pandemic, which she calls “a fascinating” experience.
“Learning how to channel all of the anxieties that come with living in a pandemic and then going to work as well was really fascinating,” she says. “The camaraderie on Elvis and the inclusivity of that experience really taught me a lot about being brave and throwing yourself into the work. Watching Tom and Austin and how much they prepared and really committed to the roles — that was a huge learning opportunity.”
She listened to a lot of Mazzy Star and Lana Del Rey while she was playing Priscilla Presley, and Britney Spears, Spice Girls, and ’90s hip-hop for the part of Caitlin Atwater.
Her favorite movie is Blue Valentine, the 2010 R-rated romance drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose marriage begins spiraling out of control. Her dream is to make a movie like that one day.
“A movie like Blue Valentine — I would love to make something like that. I would love to make a movie with a really small crew, like what they did on the Safdie brothers’ Good Time,” she says. “I think that would be a really interesting experience, to sort
of hone down back to the work of it, rather than with the big sets and the big crew. I’m excited to see what the next few years bring.”
The Staircase is now streaming on HBO and Elvis opened in theaters on June 24 from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Main Image: Olivia DeJonge photographed by Francis Hills.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of MovieMaker Magazine.