Sofia Coppola’s latest movie, A24’s “Priscilla,” takes audiences back to the 1960s to chronicle a love story between 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu and rock star Elvis Presley. Cailee Spaeny plays teen Priscilla and Jacob Elordi is the King. With the film spanning 1959 to 1972, costume designer Stacey Battat pulled together around 130 looks for Spaeny’s character, and at least 100 for Elordi.
Silhouette changes, subtle makeup and hair changes were key to Spaeny’s transformation. Speaking at the Middleburg Film Festival, Spaeny was joined by Battat to accept Variety’s Creative Collaborators award on behalf of director Coppola, who was unable to attend. Spaeny said, “We weren’t working with any sort of special effects makeup or aging techniques, so those pieces were essential in my figuring out how I was going to be differentiating all these stages in her life.”
Battat, Coppola’s go-to costume designer, has worked with the filmmaker on over six projects, including “The Beguiled,” “On the Rocks” and “The Bling Ring.” She began by diving into photographic research. “I looked at photos of Priscilla and photos of what was historically accurate, and then fine-tuned it. I had younger-looking silhouettes to begin with, and more childish colors, and moved forward with more adult silhouettes. A big part of that was hair and makeup because that also gave an idea of her age.”
As for Spaeny, despite spending a lot of her childhood visiting Graceland, she admitted she didn’t know Priscilla’s story. The biggest entry into playing the character was meeting with Priscilla herself. “I was so prepared. But the second I walked through the door, everything went out of my head. I remember I was staring at my plate and she wanted to know if I had any questions. She was so gracious with her time, we ended up talking for about four hours.”
The film was shot in 30 days on a $13 million budget, out of order. Priscilla’s graduation scene was one of the first scenes shot. While there were photos of her dress, Battat said, “We made some small changes to the neckline.”
For her wedding gown, Battat said, “We were lucky enough to collaborate with Chanel on the wedding dress, and Valentino made his tuxedo.”
With the film shooting out of order, Spaeny explained she would often find herself a more mature, pregnant Priscilla in the morning, and “I’d be 14 after lunch.”
For another part of the transformation, Spaeny talked about perfecting Priscilla’s black eyeliner as Coppola zoomed in while she applied her makeup.
Yes, that was actually Spaeny.
“I had to get it in one take,” she told the audience. “I think it was the most stressful scene ever. Everyone was holding their breath, and Jo-Ann MacNeil, our head of makeup was so proud of me. I had to get in there and do my own eyeliner.”