The Last Elvis came on my radar at Sundance because it’s about an Argentine Elvis impersonator. I missed it there, but when it came to the Los Angeles Film Festival, I realized writer/director Armando Bo was the cowriter of Biutiful with Alejandro Inarritu. If you haven’t seen Biutiful, it’s really the cancer stricken psychic human trafficker movie of 2010. Luckily Argentine Elvis Impersonator movies are far more common. John McInerny plays Carlos Gutierrez, who does everything he can to become Elvis even after a real life tragedy threatens his family. We chatted with Bo by phone as he came to Los Angeles this week.
CraveOnline: Even though The Last Elvis is a tragic story, does it have a lighter touch than Biutiful since it has the Elvis world and music in it?
Armando Bo: I feel that they are two different works. It depends on the point of view that you are seeing the film. Now I feel that Elvis could be a tragedy seen from our point of view, but from the point of view of the character it’s a happy story with a happy ending in a way. I feel that of course there is a tragic thing that unifies Elvis and Biutiful but I think that they are two different stories and characters, no?
Of course it’s different, but talking thematically and trying not to spoil it.
We could try to say he follows his dream and he does what he feels he needs to do in a way. That’s what I always thought about this film, that he’s following his ideal which of course if we see it from another point of view, I would never do it but he doesn’t see another way of living. If he’s not Elvis he’s nothing, from his point of view. Even the way I try to do it in the decisions of the director, in the way of telling the story in all the shots. I was trying to always show his point of view, what he feels and what he’s trying to be. He’s trying to achieve Elvis in a way.
Were the Elvis songs always going to be in English? Was there ever any thought of translating them into Spanish?
I think that if he’s Elvis as we are saying, there was not another possibility. If he’s Elvis he must sing like Elvis, no? I think that the film never tried to be bizarre. He’s always trying to be the more Elvis he can be, in all the decisions. Even his house which is not a beautiful house, has something of Elvis. The life, even his car, even his daughter is Lisa Marie, he’s always trying to make his habitat and his life work in a way. Of course, in a moment the reality comes and hits him in the face and says, “No, this is not what you are. You are another thing.” And he needs to deal with that. But I think that he’s always trying to be another thing.
Did you audition singers or were you ever going to teach an actor how to sing?
I was almost going to do this film with the biggest star in Argentina, and John was going to be the coach. He was going to teach him how to sing, how to move and for different reasons, this actor couldn’t make the film. In that moment it was almost a tragedy, but I think that it was the biggest decision for the film to make it with John McInerny. It’s his debut as an actor because he wasn’t an actor, and he’s always acting. He’s never doing himself in the film. He doesn’t have anything of the character, so it was an amazing movie of learning how the film finds his character in a way.
Who was the biggest star in Argentina?
Oh, I can’t say.
I’ll figure it out. Is there going to be a soundtrack of John doing Elvis songs?
I already have it and if we meet somewhere I can give it to you. Yes, we have a soundtrack and it sounds really nice. I think John is an amazing singer, no? It’s something I’m really happy with.
What directing style did you learn from working with Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu?
Well, I learned a lot. Of course I come from being a commercial director too. It was really important for me to see the way he worked. To see Alejandro working in a story, to be able to work with him and be his friend and to live that process of Biutiful was really important for me before I do the first film. I learned many, many things but I also tried to give Elvis its own world. I didn’t want to do another film of Alejandro. Alejandro has his own style and I tried to have another something. This film has got to be different, but I learned a lot.
I just meant because it was your first film, and he was a very distinct director. Did that influence you?
No, no. Of course it was a great opportunity to work with him. I feel that film is a place to do whatever you want and whatever you feel, and what a character needs. So I follow my intuition and I try to listen to the character for the story.
Why do you like using a handheld camera?
Oh, I was trying to separate the worlds. If you see, in his reality it’s always handheld, but in the shows and when he feels and thinks he’s Elvis, it’s always a steadicam, more steady. These are the two worlds I was trying to tell story with the camera in a way.
What was it like shooting in the U.S. and Memphis?
Shooting in the U.S. was great. I love Memphis and it was an amazing thing, but we didn’t have permits because Elvis Enterprises manages Memphis so they were not giving us the permits, but we shot in the streets and everything looked nice. Then it goes somewhere we can’t say too much about that, but of course it’s not Graceland.
Right, I didn’t think they would let you shoot there, especially at night.
No, that’s why this is a film with no support of Elvis Presley.
Where did your interest in Elvis come from?
Actually, this could be The Last Jordan, The Last Obama, etc. I love the world of Elvis but I think this is a story of Carlos Gutierrez, no? This is a story that speaks about fantasies, about the lack of personality, about how we cheat ourselves and lie to ourselves all our lives. So the world of Elvis for me was one of my decisions. I love of course the music, outside of the film, and the aesthetics allowed me to play a lot because if he is Elvis, he should wear in some way some clothes and have this type of house. So I love that but the story and the subject could be whatever famous person.
How was your experience at the Sundance Film Festival?
It was amazing to see the power that a festival can have. They touch a film, the film starts living and people start thinking about the film. Elvis has a film that changed after Sundance and I feel really lucky. I learned a lot, it was really nice, I enjoyed it, everyone was really nice. We got a very good reception. People stayed a lot in the Q&As so everything was positive and it was amazing how we changed the film for the better.
What changes did you make to the film after Sundance?
Not changes on the film, but the way people reacted to the film and the way people saw the film, and even that they know the film. It’s a huge amount of advertising and people know that it exists. Of course the film is what it is. I’m really sure of the film I’ve done and I really like it, but it gives you a big push in that way.
Did you get to have that kind of personal interaction with audiences on Biutiful also?
Not much, no. This is my first time in contact with the people which is something really nice. I really enjoy it and I’m really open to listening to the critics and of course I’m sure of what I’ve done, but this is a film that was grown with opinions of people I respect a lot. So I think one of the things that’s important is you must be open to listening to what people say. I think it’s important to listen to the audience.
What is the difference between writing a script you’re going to direct and writing a script with another director?
Well, it’s a big difference. To work for another director, Alejandro has his own style. You need to think of what you like but also what he would like and what he will need and what is his voice. Of course Alejandro really knows what he wants too, so that’s the whole point. He feels that if he knows what he wants, we need to think with his point of view in a way. About this script, the important thing is what I felt and I have a really big relationship with [co-writer] Nicolas [Giacobone] so yes, it is what we wanted for the film and what we wanted to say. It’s a big difference. I really like both. It’s different and I learn from both too. It’s important to be open and to try to achieve the most we can.
Did you have a lot of different ideas from Inarittu on Biutiful that you had to work out?
To enter into that world, I think when you work as a team it’s a team and that was a script written with six hands. That’s what I think is important at this point.
What do you want to write and direct next?
We have another script that we already finished and I don’t want to talk too much now about that because I’m just talking about Elvis so when we start moving this script and trying to find the casting, it’s really tough to start again. It’s tough but it’s nice too. You’re starting again another journey.
Is it another Spanish language film?
It could be in English. I would love to do it in English but it could also be in Spain or in Argentina or it could be in the United States.