Before her death earlier this year, Lisa Marie Presley expressed shock and horror at the portrayal of her father, Elvis Presley, in the screenplay for Sofia Coppola’s new film “Priscilla.” It was described in two emails obtained exclusively by diverseThe late Presley asked Coppola to reconsider her vision for the character and spare her family public embarrassment. The messages were sent four months before Presley suffered a fatal heart attack in January.
Presley’s letters described the script as “shockingly vindictive and offensive” and contained pleas for Oscar-winning director Coppola to refrain from straining her fragile relationship with her mother – the subject of the film, Priscilla Presley – as well as to impose scrutiny on Elvis’s living descendants. They are still mourning the loss of Lisa Marie Presley’s son, Benjamin Keough, who died in 2020.
“Priscilla” is a biography of Priscilla Presley, based on the subject’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me.” The film generated controversy among critics and audiences for its depiction of Elvis and Priscilla’s courtship – a story that began in Germany in 1959 when Priscilla was 14 and Elvis was 24.
“My father appears to be predatory and manipulative. As his daughter, I do not read this and see neither of my parents in this character. I do not read this and see my mother’s view of my father. I read this and see your shocking vindictive and contemptuous view and I don’t understand why? I don’t understand why,” Presley wrote in one of her letters. They were sent in September last year, about four hours apart.
While Coppola had not yet rolled the cameras on “Priscilla” when Presley contacted her, the latter bluntly told her that she would speak out against the project and against her mother, who is credited as an executive producer and has been involved in publicity for the A24 release. The film, already an awards season contender, opened in limited release on October 27 and expands wide on Friday.
“I would be forced to be in a position where I would have to openly say how I feel about the movie and publicly diss you, my mother, and this movie,” Presley wrote.
When asked to comment on the exchange, Coppola responded through her representative with the words she expressed to Presley in response to emails she sent in September, saying they sum up what the director intends to do with her film.
“I hope that when you see the finished film, you will feel differently, and understand that I care deeply about honoring your mother, while also presenting your father with sensitivity and complexity,” Coppola wrote.
Priscilla Presley could not immediately be reached for comment. A24, which distributes “Priscilla” locally and did not produce the project, declined to comment.
A film insider said the exchanges took place on Sept. 2, 2022, while Coppola was on the floor at the Telluride Film Festival, just weeks away from starting production on “Priscilla.” The film is based exclusively on “Elvis and Me,” and efforts have been made to “tone down” some elements of the book regarding the couple’s courtship that would have shocked contemporary audiences, the source said. Insiders said Coppola’s goal was to tell a love story, and the film’s main tension was Priscilla’s struggle to adjust to life with a global star. Lisa Marie Presley is believed to have seen an early draft of the script, which was eventually “cut” by about 10 pages when principal photography began on October 24, 2022, the source said.
“Priscilla” was the official selection of this year’s Venice Film Festival. It premiered to glowing notices and its star Cailee Spaeny won Best Actress. Both the media and viewers noticed the age gap and power dynamics between the on-screen Elvis (portrayed by “Euphoria” star Jacob Elordi) and Priscilla.
The project showcases “the drain through which psychological abuse exhausts partners.” one critic wrote. Fans on social media accused Elvis of “wooing” his eventual bride. Most reviews found the film to be in keeping with Coppola’s vaunted filmography, and is largely a story about a young woman’s life in a “gilded cage” (a phrase used in multiple reviews). Rolling Stone Published an interview with Coppola on October 24 under the title “Is Elvis Presley a Monster in Priscilla?” Sofia Coppola wants you to judge for yourself.
Lisa Marie Presley was skeptical that her mother, Priscilla, would understand the modern translation of her experience.
“I’m concerned that my mother doesn’t see the nuance here or realize how Elvis will be viewed when this movie comes out,” Lisa Marie Presley wrote in her emails. “I feel very protective of my mother, who has spent her whole life living up to my father’s legacy. I worry that she doesn’t understand the intentions behind this film or the outcome it will achieve.
Lisa Marie Presley also seems to appeal to Coppola’s legacy in Hollywood.
“I think all people will understand what that feels like,” she wrote, referring to the famous Coppola family, which includes her father, “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola. “Why did you come to my father and family?” The same source familiar with Lisa Marie Presley said her contacts with Coppola were shared with Priscilla Presley, as well as Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter, actor Riley Keough.
Coppola has tread lightly when it comes to questions about the age difference between Elvis and Priscilla.
“I try not to be judgmental of any of the characters and be as empathetic as I can with each one of them. And I really focus on her point of view, but even with parents, you wonder, ‘How could anyone let their child live with Elvis at such a young age?’ “ Priscilla Presley made it clear, during press tours in Venice and in later interviews, that she and Elvis did not have a sexual relationship when she was 14, she told Rolling Stone magazine this month. The mother also said many times that she loved the movie.
The emails reveal the specific conflict Hollywood must face when creating works of art around the legacy of icons like Elvis. Estates representing late stars often get into disputes over adaptation content (Elvis Presley Enterprises, which represents the trust and physical estate of the “Viva Las Vegas” star, barred “Priscilla” from using his music catalog for the film).
The emails also reflect what was at stake personally for Lisa Marie Presley.
“Sophia, there is one more thing I would like to add,” Presley ended her second note to Coppola. She shared an anecdote about one of her young twins, Harper Lockwood, who was sent a commercial about “Priscilla” going into production.
“I had to explain that we were going to have to endure another blow in our lives. That there was going to be a movie about her grandfather that would try to make it look so bad but that wasn’t true. I had to explain that her beloved grandmother was supportive of that. These two little girls have been through a lot in the years For the past seven years, they endured my divorce, a horrific custody battle, and then lost their brother. “We were all drowning,” Lisa Marie Presley wrote.
She praised the 2022 movie “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann, and described it as “a break from suffering and a ray of light that struck us last year… He made them very proud and honored to be his granddaughters.” It made them feel blessed for a moment and less cursed in life. It made us very proud because it was a true portrayal of his true personality.
Presley said she did not understand Coppola’s “need to try to take down my father in the wake of this incredible film on the pretext that you’re trying to tell my mother’s story, but from your own very dark and tired reality.”
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