His debut film “El último Elvis” (The Last Elvis) won the Best Picture prize at the 2012 East End Film Festival in London. It is a drama about the different personalities we all have within us.
The Argentine director says that his first film decided of its own accord when it should be made. The 33 year old comes from a family which includes in its number some of the country’s cinematic heavyweights. He worked in advertising for 10 years before deciding to make the leap to the ‘seventh art’.
But he always wanted to devote himself to this, and it was as a consequence of “The Last Elvis” that film director Alejandro González Iñárritu entrusted him with writing the screenplay for “Biutiful” the 2010 award-winning film starring Javier Bardem.
In this, his first film, Bo introduces us to Carlos Gutiérrez, a man who has lived his whole life as if he were the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. So, when he reaches the age at which The King died, he has to choose between his family, in the shape of his daughter Lisa Marie, and continuing to live out his dream.
On the occasion of his visit to London, the director took time out to talk to The Prisma about his London-prizewinning film, which has also seen success at prestigious festivals such as Sundance.
How did you create this character who subsumes his own personality into that of Elvis?
It was born out of my interest in concepts like lack of personality, fame at any cost and fandom, and in how people respond to their idols. It seems incredible to me that someone might start crying when they see someone famous, because they are really just flesh and bone – people who go to the bathroom. I had known for a long time that I wanted to make a film that dealt with this subject.
So, I knew an Elvis impersonator, not the actor from the film, and I made a commercial with him. I found it incredible that someone could live their life as a totally different person. The film is a metaphor, an extreme of fandom.
In truth, it could have been any famous person. But the world of Elvis struck me as interesting because, in a way, he died imitating himself. This happens a lot with famous people. They become caricatures of themselves, trying to maintain the appearance of a reality that just doesn’t exist. In many ways Elvis was also in the interesting position of being the first global rock star. And it killed him because he wasn’t prepared for it.
John McInerny, the actor who plays Carlos is not a professional actor, he is actually a real-life Elvis impersonator.
The film was going to star a very famous Argentine actor. Then I came across one of John’s CDs and I was very impressed by him. I loved his music and we made him take a screen test, which turned out to be spectacular. He hadn’t read the script, but he said yes anyway.
There was no question over whether he should play the lead in the film. There isn’t a single moment when he is playing himself, and it was amazing for me to discover an actor. His similarity to Elvis is musical rather than visual. We rehearsed for six months, and, in my opinion, there aren’t many actors in Argentina who are capable of being as plausible in front of the camera as he is. It was this strength and this look that helped me to understand why it is that the camera either loves you or not at all. I’m very happy it was him.
What role did Carlos Gutiérrez’s daughter play in this whole vital process?
The film focuses on the protagonist, but there is also a moment that deals with a reunion between a father and daughter, Lisa, and this the strongest moment in the film, and the one in which the characters values are most shaken up. Lisa takes it upon herself to bring Carlos back to a reality that he is in complete denial of. And he does reach the point when he can’t avoid the need to confront his denial any longer.
Well, I wanted people to question how the characters sell themselves to us and how we buy it. In many ways we are all impersonating someone else. From childhood to adulthood, we are all inspired by different things. And there are those who stop being a reflection of someone else, and those who don’t. The ability to take a good look at ourselves and accept ourselves for who we are.
Do you spend much time developing the flaws in each character?
Of course. Mostly because I lead a double life between advertising and cinema. The whole process of Elvis was developing in parallel with my development as a director and in my work. The film was delayed two years because of “Biutiful”. But that was a good thing because I matured and understood much more about film, so I could be more precise in a lot of things that previously I wouldn’t have been able to do. I took as much time as the film needed and it decided for itself when it wanted to be made.
The truth is that I learned a lot from the project and I changed my views on many things. When it came to drafting the script I was able to delve more deeply into many parts of it. It also helped me to break free of people from my past, because I’d spent a lot of years in advertising. More than anything, it was a personal change and a change in the way other people perceived me. Obviously, it was a very successful film, at the same time as being a very hard-hitting and intimate drama.
And what about your move from advertising into cinema…?
The truth is, I always wanted to make films. We always talked a lot about it in my house. Films take on a life of their own, which is an interesting aspect of films that you don’t find in advertising. By virtue of the fact that you are recounting a story and immersing yourself in someone else’s life, you reach a point when you are not in control of the film anymore because the film is in control of you.
You are the grandson of fellow-director, actor and producer Armando Bo. Has this had its advantages?
In truth, I don’t really think it’s important. Time will tell what direction my film will take.
I think the road is a long one and with only one film under my belt, I don’t think I can start competing with a cinematic legacy spanning so many years. I am treading my own path, my film doesn’t have anything to do with my grandfather or my father. There’ll be another one after this, and no doubt another one after that, and they are what will define my journey.
What is different about “El último Elvis”?
The film has a life of its own and it works. The subject of the film is interesting, someone who rejects their own reality and creates a parallel one, which is something that we all do, in one way or another, from time to time. Then, in terms of the audiovisual and musical aspects of the film, its ending, and the relationship between father and daughter, the film feels different to me because it is unique.
(Translated by Viv Griffiths)