Even Tom Hanks thought he was an odd choice to play Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker in director Baz Luhrmann’s film. Elvis (opens in theaters June 24). “When Baz came and first talked about Elvis, I didn’t know why he came to see me,” recalls Hanks.
For one thing, Hanks wasn’t very interested in Elvis. On the other hand, the actor specializes in decent American ‘Everymen’ and Parker is a mysterious wheel dealer who managed (some say exploited) the King throughout his solo career while remaining virtually anonymous. Hanks remembers thinking, “I don’t know what that guy looks like. I’ve never heard his voice.”
However, Hanks said he was intrigued and became even more interested when he started researching Parker. What he found was “a sneaky mix of selfishness and genius somehow.”
“There’s no artistic bone in Colonel Tom Parker,” he said, “he doesn’t care about the music, he doesn’t care about the movies. He cares about the deal. He cares about making sure his son doesn’t care. ‘Not only has talent worth a million dollars, but actually has a million dollars.”
Born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in 1909 in the Netherlands, Parker came to the US illegally in 1929. He made a living at circuses and carnivals throughout the South, before getting into music promotions for country stars such as Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. He was awarded the honorary title colonel of the Louisiana State Guard after helping singer Jimmie Davis win the governorship in 1944. In 1955 he met the then little-known Elvis Presley. A year later with the release of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis became a household name.
Even music industry insiders knew little at the time about Parker, except that he was a muscular man with an irreplaceable accent who earned 50 percent of Elvis’ soaring earnings at a time when 10 or 15 percent was standard for managers.
Hanks said, however, that Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling, friends of Elvis and members of King’s “Memphis Mafia” entourage, told him that Elvis was satisfied with the deal. Parker handled the promotion and merchandising of Elvis Presley, something no one else around the singer could or wanted to do. More than that, Hanks learns, Parker ingratiated himself into Elvis’ inner circle. “I was ready to hear horror stories about how evil the Colonel was, and both said he was one of the nicest men they’d ever met: ‘He’s lovely, he’s happy, when he comes in the room it’s bright. He’s always looking out for us.'”
“Is he a carny and stingy? Was there a perversion involved? Yes,” said Hanks. Parker is a “selfish promoter, don’t turn him into the most altruistic human being.” However, he “made Elvis Presley’s dream come true beyond his wildest imagination.” It was Parker who handed out Elvis TV appearances frugally, ensuring that fans who wanted to see them had to pay for tickets. He came up with the idea of a “best hit” album to keep Elvis in the public eye while he served in the Army. He was also behind Elvis’ lucrative film career, his pioneering residency in Las Vegas and Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite, one of the first satellite broadcasts to be viewed by 1.5 billion people worldwide. After Elvis’ death, Parker continued to represent him, although a judge in 1980 ruled his management unethical. He died in 1997 in Las Vegas.
So why would a movie star who is famous worldwide for portraying genuinely good people like Forrest Gump, Sully Sullenberger, Jim Lovell and Mister Rogers try to convince audiences that he is someone as morally bleak as Tom Parker?
“The reason I took the job was because I thought men were attractive,” said Hanks, “Look, I’m 66, you only get into things like this when I feel like I’m going to be able to really check out a few brands. authenticity. I’m not interested in playing bad guys for bad guys.”
Hanks admits getting the audience to see the past of “Tom Hanks” is a challenge. “I woke up as Tom Hanks every day for the last 66 years,” he says with a laugh, “I’ve made peace with him.”
“I have a certain type of face. You bring it into every one of your films. And I have to say also, when I saw what the Colonel sounded like and what he looked like, it was very far from myself. It was a luxury for an actor to jump in, if you can do it.” Hanks became Colonel Tom on screen with the help of a fake nose and accent that confused some critics.
As for the audiences themselves, Hanks said they know as well as actors, that films need a reprieve of disbelief. “I think everyone makes a deal with the art form, everyone knows that this is a film. If you have to see the same people over and over again, it’s like watching a variety show and I’m just the host. movies with audiences are coming in and I’m going to show you something you’ve never seen before.”
“Am I familiar? Of course. Very few film stars are mysterious. They may be a little frisky. It’s an understood discovery between artist and audience where the audience comes in and says, ‘I have enough trust in you to take me places. one I’ve never been to. You haven’t let me down too many times before.'”
Hanks says he also tries to capture the good and the bad he finds in the complex relationship between the eccentric manager and his eccentric client. Hanks said, “Baz is going to be doing something I’ve never seen before. And any time you’re going to be able to explore something you think you know the story of, and then you find all this other stuff, I think it’s a cool way to make a film. “
“There’s also a mastermind dynamic behind the artist that I’m not interested in doing because there’s always someone saying, ‘No you can’t do this, you have to do that. I know you don’t want to sing that song but you have to sing this song. .’ And that doesn’t happen in the relationship between the two,” Hanks said.
“The Colonel didn’t care what song Elvis was playing the first time he saw him. What he paid attention to was the effect it had on the audience. And I get that. It wasn’t a guy who said, ‘Oh, I’ll be able to do it. Change this guy and bend him the way I want. .’ He actually saw this man on stage, turned a crowd of women into pure banshees, experienced something grounded in him. That’s what’s interesting about the man.”
H. Alan Scott is the host of Newsweek’s Farewell Photoshoot. New episodes are available every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott