Cailee Spaeny stars as Priscilla Beaulieu Presley in Sofia Coppola’s new movie Priscilla. Based on the real-life Priscilla’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, the movie walks audiences through what it was like being the wife of the King of Rock ‘n Roll from the inside.
So, naturally, Spaeny got to spend some time getting to know Priscilla herself. The former Mrs. Presley served as an executive producer on the film, which Coppola shot in only 30 days.
In a Q&A following a screening of Priscilla at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Friday night, Spaeny — who received SCAD’s Breaktrhough Award — explained what it was like embodying Priscilla opposite Jacob Elordi as Elvis on the big screen and the surprising details about Beaulieu Presley that she learned while getting to know her.
Cailee Spaeny on Playing Priscilla Beaulieu Presley in Priscilla
“I did as much research as I could leaning on the book, and then [had] the pleasure of meeting Priscilla Presley herself,” Spaeny said.
“We sat down and had in depth conversations. Well, the truth is, I tried to plan out questions to ask her, and then the second she started walking to my table when we first had lunch, they all went out of my head. But she was very gracious with her time. Sitting in front of Priscilla Presley, she’s talking about her time with Elvis. It was so strange. But the fact that she took that time to sit down with me was such a huge part of trying to figure out how — she’s a woman of a different time. She holds herself differently.”
Spaeny plays Priscilla from the time she meets Elvis at age 14 while he’s stationed in Bad Nauheim, Germany, to when she leaves their marriage at age 28.
“Playing the age range, I tried to figure out different things I was going to do to try to differentiate myself from each age. And then you show up on the first day, and you feel like all that work went out the window, because then you’re there and it’s actually happening,” she said.
“The hair, the makeup, the costumes was the final step for me. It really was my anchor in figuring out where I was within the story. You know, I’ve talked about this, but I was pregnant in the morning, and I was 14 after lunch. It was hard,” she laughed.
“When you’re shooting in 30 days, like I said before, you really do have to lean on everyone else. Having that time with Jacob [Elordi], because our rapport had to feel strong. I had to make sure I trusted him throughout this process. And he worked so hard. He did all of his homework. We got along very well. I knew that when I entered the scene with him, he was going to have an idea to bring to the table, he was going to know how to flip the scene on its head if it needed to be.”
Surprising Details Spaeny Learned About Beaulieu Presley
Getting to know Priscilla in real life revealed some surprises that she didn’t expect from the former Mrs. Presley.
“I felt like I had got a sort of idea of what this person was, and then I watched her in the Naked Gun movies. I remember calling her on the phone. I’m like, ‘I can’t pin you down! You’re hilarious!’ She’s a comedic genius in those films. So she was always showing different sides of herself. And then the fact that she got really good at karate. You know this woman in little dresses and heels,” Spaeny said.
She also recalled Priscilla telling her a funny story about Elvis, who was also an avid practitioner of karate.
“She actually told me a great story, I’m just remembering now. Elvis would, after she got really good at karate, he would ask her in front of his friends — she’d be in a full gown — and he’d be like, ‘Ah, show everybody your new karate moves!’ And she was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She’s in heels and a dress. Those moments always made her laugh,” Spaeny remembered. “She’s a really surprising, impressive woman.”
Priscilla arrives in theaters on Nov. 3.
Main Image: Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny as Elvis and Priscilla Presley in Priscilla courtesy of A24 and SCAD.