Creating a Graceland from scratch is no small feat. It’s one of the most iconic homes in America. How many rock stars’ homes are visited on a daily basis after decades? The King, Elvis Presley, and his home play a large role in Sofia Coppola‘s Priscilla. In the story, Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) goes from free to trapped in the iconic house.
It was up to production designer Tamara Deverell to make Graceland come to life… in Toronto. “The exterior was really hard, and we ended up having to shoot the gates at one place way west of Toronto and the exterior house way east of Toronto on a house that we did a ton of work on to make it look like Graceland, both physically. We clad the front, and then VFX did the upper level,” Deverell told Below the Line. “We put the green shutters of Graceland, we put stone, we put the things with these lines that Graceland has, that everybody who’s ever been to Graceland knows.”
Deverell, in fact, has never been to Graceland. “The bedroom was a set, the bedroom, the office, but there was another fan club office where the women were working,” she added. “We stuck that in one location where we put the gates, where we built in a corner. We wallpapered and dressed and built in with one wall, an existing wall built for the little nursery scene.”
With all the moving pieces in designing Graceland and beyond, including Germany, Deverell aptly compares the process to a game of chess. “It was really a chess game of moves to make it all work in a few locations with as few moves as possible because you don’t want a crew going everywhere,” she explained. “So the hospital scene and the hospital scene, the hair salon, what else did we shoot? There was a number of sets. We shot the high school in Germany. We shot all in one old defunct, closed-down high school for the hospital. We literally built the room where Lisa Marie is born into just a blank space and made the wallpaper to match the reference images.”
Priscilla is a movie with a lot of interiors with serious pop culture history. In Coppola’s film, Graceland, in particular, is almost more like a dollhouse, less a rock and roll fantasy. “It really is a woman trapped in a gilded cage,” the production designer concluded. “Actually, one of the things I did with Graceland because Jacob Elrodi, who played Elvis, is so tall, I actually elevated some of the ceiling heights in Graceland, so he didn’t feel truncated. I was worried that he would have to duck; he’s that tall, but it also helped because Cailee, on the other hand, is quite petite at five foot one. And so, it made her feel always like the kid in the Dollhouse. Graceland was a living dollhouse for her, and she was a living doll for Elvis. That’s certainly a theme in the movie.”
Priscilla is now playing in theaters.