There is a poignant scene in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” where Austin Butler’s character says the words, “I will always love you.” It’s a shot that comes toward the end of the film, and Luhrmann describes it as the film’s actual death scene.
But, in a recent conversation for Variety with collaborator and go-to cinematographer, Mandy Walker, Luhrmann revealed a scene of Butler singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” that didn’t make the final cut.
After Elvis and Priscilla Presley break up, Elvis drops off their daughter, Lisa Marie, at the airport. The couple have a short heart-to-heart in the back of a Pullman Mercedes, and it’s a heartbreaking moment that foreshadows Elvis’ death and examines his isolation. As Elvis walks up the stairs leaving his family behind, that to Luhrmann was the film’s death scene.
“The script was pretty long, but I always wanted another moment where Priscilla came back into his life and that they were friends. In a way when he walks on that plane and it takes off, we don’t need to see him die, he’s dead,” the director says.
He explains Dolly Parton had always wanted Elvis to sing the song, “but the Colonel interceded and he never recorded it.”
Parton revealed in 2020 during a podcast interview on “Living & Learning With Reba McEntire” that Presley was set to record the track. Parton said, “The night before the session, Colonel Tom [Parker, Presley’s longtime manager] called me and said, ‘You know, we don’t record anything with Elvis unless we have at least half the publishing.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ And he said, ‘Well, then we can’t do it.’ And I cried all night, because I’d just pictured Elvis singing it. I know it wasn’t [his decision], but it’s true. I said no.”
Luhrmann explains the scene was a special moment because it was coming toward the end of the shoot: “Austin sang ‘I Will Always Love You’ in the back of the car. The scene begins with Priscilla saying, ‘It’s a beautiful song,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, Dolly wants me to sing it, but the Colonel…’” However, the moment wouldn’t work for the scene and the film, so it was cut.
Luhrmann reveals, “When Austin got out of the car, he looks across at Priscilla and says that line, so that’s where it comes from.”
The filmmaker credits production designer Catherine Martin (also the film’s costume designer) for getting a rare Pullman Mercedes for the scene. The production found one in Melbourne, Australia, and had it shipped to the film’s location shoot.
But Luhrmann and the production faced another obstacle: They were running out of time and he wanted to shoot the sequence on the tarmac at an airport. “We just didn’t know how we would fit it into the schedule. You can’t drive the car because of gasoline, so it’s my guy, Fletch, pulling the car with a piece of rope. There’s no plane and no tarmac. Just a wind machine and the actors,” he said.
Watch the car scene below.