Trend > Culture > Priscilla’s Cailee Spaeny On Why Sofia Coppola Is Like ‘An Iron Fist In A Silk Glove’ [Exclusive Interview] – /Film
Priscilla’s Cailee Spaeny On Why Sofia Coppola Is Like ‘An Iron Fist In A Silk Glove’ [Exclusive Interview] – /Film
Priscilla's Cailee Spaeny On Why Sofia Coppola Is Like 'An Iron Fist In A Silk Glove' [Exclusive Interview] - /Film,/Film spoke with Priscilla star Cailee Spaeny about her approach, the real Priscilla's reaction to the film, and working with writer/director Sofia Coppola.

Priscilla’s Cailee Spaeny On Why Sofia Coppola Is Like ‘An Iron Fist In A Silk Glove’ [Exclusive Interview] – /Film

You’ve seen Cailee Spaeny before, even if you didn’t quite know it at the time.

Her commanding lead performance in the upcoming “Priscilla” biopic has landed her on the map for good (and deservedly so), but the 25-year-old actor has found consistent work since her teenage years and even had the good fortune of working on major films and shows created by some of the biggest names around — Drew Goddard, Mimi Leder, Adam McKay, and, of course, Sofia Coppola among them. To date, however, she’s had to be content with relatively minor roles and supporting appearances in noteworthy projects like 2018’s “Pacific Rim” sequel, “Bad Times at the El Royale,” Alex Garland’s “Devs” miniseries, and the Showtime series “The First Lady.”

That all changes with “Priscilla,” a stunning, melancholy, and wonderfully intimate look at the other half of the torrid Elvis Presley/Priscilla Beaulieu love affair that, in retrospect, now seems like anything but. Starring “Euphoria” alum Jacob Elordi as the King of Rock and Roll himself and Spaeny as Priscilla, Coppola weaves together details from the real Priscilla Presley’s memoir to create a much less celebratory portrait (especially compared to the likes of last year’s “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann) of a young woman struggling to define herself apart from the overbearing and irresistible figure who was, at the time, the most famous man in the world.

Luckily, I had the chance to chat with Spaeny over Zoom (as an A24 production independent from the auspices of the AMPTP, “Priscilla” has SAG-AFTRA approval for its cast to promote the film during the guild’s ongoing strike) and talk all about her star-making turn, her dynamic with Sofia Coppola, and the pressure of doing right by the real Priscilla Presley.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

‘A lot of it is portrayed through these beautiful, still moments’

A24

First of all, congrats on the movie. I’m sure you’re hearing this a lot, but you really are incredible in it. Just wanted to put that out there.

Know what? It doesn’t hurt to hear it [laughs]. It’s scary being in movies and putting it out into the world, so I will take it and thank you for saying that.

I want to start with the fact that, you’re not just in practically every scene of this movie, you really are at the forefront of every scene. Obviously it’s Priscilla’s name in the title, it’s her story, but a lot of it is also her dealing with how she’s overshadowed by Elvis, by his ego, his reputation, his charisma. There’s that tension there with him overshadowing every scene, even when Jacob isn’t physically in the scene with you. Did you ever think of it that way? I’m curious how you approached Priscilla’s role in the script when you first joined.

Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting point because when I did read the script and Jacob and I were talking about it, I remember we were on a call and he’s like, “I have way more dialogue than you do.” [Laughs] I said, “Yeah, you’re right.” It was an interesting challenge to go into this film knowing that we were telling her side of the story and really walking in her shoes, but also that she actually doesn’t have a lot that she’s saying and that a lot of it is portrayed through these beautiful, still moments that are almost like photographs that Sofia just sits on and lets you breathe into that space, that say so much with very little dialogue. Also, the fact she doesn’t speak that much says something about her life and her relationship with this man and her journey with him, and then eventually realizing that she wanted more for her life.

But it absolutely was a challenge in terms of figuring out how to approach playing this character with very little dialogue and having to do it a lot with physicality and just what’s said in a simple look.

‘We wanted it to feel very human and complicated and just real’

A24

Compared to your previous roles, which were more supporting turns, did that change your approach at all and your process of approaching this movie, being the main lead of a movie for really the first time?

I try to go into every character, big or small, with the same amount of prep and work. It’s what I love about doing this job. Actually, I find prep for jobs to be my favorite part, because you get to sit in your room in your jammies [laughs] and just go on this rabbit-hole deep-dive of people or subjects or places or skills. I find that to be the most satisfying part of my job. But there was an amount of pressure playing this character that I’d never felt before in any other role. To play a real person is very intimidating, but knowing that person was eventually going to watch the film and watch me do it was really daunting. I think because Priscilla is constantly overshadowed by Elvis, we’ve seen this story told multiple times, but we’ve never really dug into her perspective.

I think the thing that I wanted most is for Priscilla herself, when she watched this movie, to feel seen and to feel safe, like it was in safe hands, because I think she deserves that. When we premiered it in Venice, she seemed visibly moved and then she pulled me aside and said she felt like she was reliving her life through me and that she felt really great about my performance. That’s all I could ever need to hear. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says or thinks now at this point [laughs], because that was the goal. I know Sofia felt that pressure as well, to really protect her. That’s what we tried to do. We tried to handle it delicately and tried to make sure it felt nuanced.

Obviously, it’s told through Sofia’s lens, which is a dreamlike fairytale world that is visually stunning, but I think the emotional side of it, we wanted it to feel very human and complicated and just real. Just take the facts that we had and put them on screen and let the audience decide how they felt, which I think is always the [approach of the] best films.

‘Her friend described her the other day as an iron fist in a silk glove’

A24

I’m glad you mentioned Sofia’s approach to the movie and what she brought to it. You’ve already worked with some of the greatest filmmakers around at this point in your career: Alex Garland, Mimi Leder, Drew Goddard, Adam McKay. Compared to them, what was Sofia’s process like? How did that measure up to your previous experiences?

I think what’s so interesting about Sofia is that she … you know, her friend described her the other day as an iron fist in a silk glove [laughs], which I think is so perfect because she has a razor-sharp vision and she knows exactly what she wants. You feel that when you watch her movies, because when you turn on a Sofia Coppola movie, you absolutely know it’s one of her films. I have been lucky to work with some amazing people, but I think it is rare in this industry to find filmmakers and creatives who are so specific in their choices and have such confidence in their choices. And she does have that, so that was always something I felt like I could trust and lean on. Even in times that things felt so chaotic and I didn’t know what direction I was going, I knew that I could always trust her, which is not always what happens when you’re working with people.

She puts an incredible amount of trust in her actors. I think she really takes the time to think about casting, but once she’s cast the person, she just lets them do their thing, which I actually think is when you get the best results, is when you just put trust in your creatives and you’re not just trying to work against them the whole time. And she does that. Sometimes it was intimidating, because sometimes she would genuinely just put me and Jacob in a room and just say, “Do whatever you want” [laughs], which is a bit like, “Wait, I mean, just, uh, I don’t know what I’m doing” [laughs], but she’s very kind. She also has an amazing balance of knowing when to really focus in on what’s important in the scene. And then she also knows when to relax, and she takes care of her crew.

For example, she uses music a lot when making a film. Obviously her soundtracks are so iconic and incredible, but she actually uses music throughout the filming process. So she’d turn on a song right before a scene, right before action, and it would get not only the cast members in the right mood and tone, but then the whole crew would lean in and be interested. She does that with everyone. I think because she brings her A game every time, everyone else, every head of department down to the PAs, are wanting to put everything into her projects.

‘It just had to feel like my own version of her’

A24

I usually like to ask actors what costuming or makeup or dialogue choices might’ve had a hand in with creating character in the first place. In your case with this being a biopic, a lot of those are kind of locked in already. But what kind of creative input did you have in bringing Priscilla to life throughout the production of this film?

I think it just had to feel like my own version of her. We were never going to get it exact. It’s a funny balance, but you don’t want to push anything too far and make it feel unnatural for the actor. We were always just tweaking and playing with it. I had lots of contact with Priscilla Presley herself, but once we actually started filming, I made a choice to just zone in and just let the research that I had done and the conversations I had with her just soak in and just cross my fingers and hope for the best and do it however felt most natural to me. I think that included hair and makeup and costumes. It was my version of Priscilla, and everyone understood that.

I think we just adjusted along the way what felt right. You never want to feel like you’re playing a caricature of a person, and sometimes we just had to pretend we were just doing a marriage drama some days, just focus in on the scenes. It was a tricky challenge and you sort of just make it up as you go. But I felt like I got really lucky working with really everyone on set — specifically Sofia and Jacob, to be able to lean on them and look to them in times where I sometimes felt like I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I had amazing collaborators alongside me to help me see it when things got a bit fuzzy.

“Priscilla” hits theaters on November 3, 2023.