In the series, Elvis (Austin Butler) gives one of his first public appearances as Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the man who would become his manager, watches.
While historically Elvis’ first major introduction would be with Sun Records, where he performed for its owner, Sam Phillips, the film takes a different path.
Director Baz Luhrmann wanted that moment to happen in front of a crowd and showcase all the pieces that came together at the rocker’s performance.
“Elvis wasn’t just about what he sang,” Luhrmann said, narrating the scene. “It was just as much about how he looked and how he moved. But the most important was its effect on the public.
And boy, what an effect here. As Elvis sings and moves his hips, he seems to provoke almost uncontrollable screams from the women in the audience. That builds to a kind of infectious hysteria that feels as shocking as it is organic.
Luhrmann worked with Butler (and some very breezy pants) to get the moves right. But the key to the scene was the extras. The moment may seem chaotic, but it was heavily designed. A movement coach and choreographer, Polly Bennett, worked with a team of performers they called the scream queens. These women had been trained to produce hysterical movements and also the high pitched wails that enhanced the action of the sequence.