Before her death earlier this year, Lisa Marie Presley expressed shock and horror over her portrayal of her father, Elvis Presley, in the script for Sofia Coppola’s new film “Priscilla.” As detailed in two emails obtained exclusively Variety, asked the late Presley Coppola to rethink his vision for the character and avoid public embarrassment for his family. The messages were sent four months before Presley suffered a heart attack in January.
News of Presley called the script “shockingly vindictive and insulting” and pleaded with Oscar-winning director Coppola to avoid his fragile relationship with his mother – the film’s subject, Priscilla Presley – as well as Elvis’ living grandchildren. They continue to mourn the loss of Lisa Marie Presley’s son Benjamin Keough, who died in 2020.
“Priscilla” is a biopic of Priscilla Presley, based on the 1985 film “Elvis and Me.” It sparked conversation among critics and audiences alike for its portrait of Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding – which was set in Germany in 1959 when Priscilla was 14 and Elvis was 24.
“My father only comes across as a predator and a manipulator. As his daughter, I don’t read this, and I don’t see my father in this character. I don’t read this and see my mother’s perspective on dad. I read this, and I see your shockingly vengeful and insulting perspective, and I wonder why. Don’t get it?” Presley wrote in one of his messages.The two were sent about four hours apart in September last year.
Although Coppola had not yet rolled the cameras on “Priscilla” when Presley reached out, she said the latter was clearly speaking to her and against her mother, who was credited as an executive producer and appeared in an ad for the A24 publication. The film, already an awards season contender, opened in limited release on October 27 and expands throughout Friday.
“I will be forced to say openly how I feel about the film and go public against you, my mother and this film,” Presley wrote.
When asked for comment on the exchange, Coppola responded with words expressed through his rep to Presley in response to his September emails, saying it encapsulated what the director wanted to do with his film.
“I hope you will feel differently when you see the final film, and understand that I took great care to honor your mother while presenting your father with sensitivity and complexity,” Coppola wrote.
Priscilla Presley could not immediately be reached for comment. A24, which does not distribute and produce the “Priscilla” project domestically, declined to comment.
A person close to the film said the exchanges were made on Sept. 2, 2022, when Coppola was on the grounds at the Telluride Film Festival, just weeks before production on “Priscilla” began. The source said the film is based exclusively on “Elvis and Me” and that efforts were made to “tone down” certain elements of the book about the couple’s romance that may have shocked contemporary audiences. Coppola’s goal was to tell a love story, and Priscilla’s struggles to adjust to life with a global superstar are the film’s primary tension, the insider said. Lisa Marie Presley is believed to have seen an early draft of the script, and when principal photography began on October 24, 2022, about 10 pages were eventually “trimmed,” the source said.
“Priscilla” is an official selection at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It premiered with glowing reviews and its star Kayleigh Spaghney won the best actress award. Both the media and audiences took note of the age gap and power dynamics between Elvis (portrayed by “Euphoria” star Jacob Elordi) and Priscilla on screen.
The program “will exhaust partners from psychological abuse” wrote one reviewer. Fans on social media have accused Elvis of “dressing up” his eventual bride. Most reviews found the film in line with Coppola’s charming cinematography, and mostly the story of a young woman’s life in a “gilded cage” (a phrase used in many reviews). Rolling Stone Published an interview With Coppola on October 24, “Is Elvis Presley a monster in ‘Priscilla’? Sofia Coppola wants you to judge for yourself.”
Lisa Marie Presley doubted that her mother, Priscilla, would understand the modern translation of her experience.
“I worry that my mom doesn’t see the subtlety here or realize how Elvis will be perceived when this film comes out,” Lisa Marie Presley wrote in one of her emails. “I feel protective over my mother, who has spent her entire life promoting my father’s legacy. I worry that she doesn’t understand the intentions behind this film or what its implications are.
Lisa Marie Presley was also impressed by Coppola’s own Hollywood heritage.
“I think of all people that you understand how this feels,” she wrote, referring to Coppola’s famous family, which includes her father, “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola. “Why are you coming for my father and my family?” The same insider who knew Lisa Marie Presley well shared her communications with Coppola with Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter, actor Riley Keough.
Coppola treads lightly when it comes to questions about the age difference between Elvis and Priscilla.
“I try not to judge any of the characters and empathize with each of them as much as I can. And I really focus on her perspective, but even with parents, you’re like, ‘How can someone let their kid live with Elvis as a teenager?'” she told Rolling Stone this month. said. Priscilla Presley has made it clear to reporters in Venice and in subsequent interviews that she and Elvis were not sexually intimate when they were 14 years old.
The emails reveal the particular struggle Hollywood faces when creating art around the legacies of icons like Elvis. Estates that represent the late stars are often in dispute over adapted content (Elvis Presley Enterprises, which represents the trust and the “Viva Las Vegas” star’s physical estate Graceland, denied “Priscilla” use of its music catalog for the film).
The emails also reflect what was personally at stake for Lisa Marie Presley.
“Sophia I’d like to add one more thing,” Presley concluded in his second note to Coppola. She shared a story about one of her young twins, Harper Lockwood, who was sent a trade notice about landing the production of “Priscilla.”
“I had to explain that we’re going to have another hit in our lives. There’s going to be a movie about her grandfather that’s going to try to make him look so bad but it’s not true. I had to explain that her loving grandmother supports it. These two little girls have been through my divorce and horrible past 7 years. Endured a custody battle and then lost their brother. We are all drowning,” wrote Lisa Marie Presley.
The 2022 film “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann, was “a respite and a ray of light from the misery that hit us last year … It made them so proud and proud to be his granddaughters. It made them feel blessed for a moment and cursed in life. A true portrayal of who he really was.” Because it made us all proud.
Presley said of Coppola’s “you’re trying to tell my mother’s story, but trying to take my father out of your very dark and dreary reality into such an incredible film.”