“It’s Been Hugely Extensive”: Designer Catherine Martin Spent Years Researching for ‘Elvis’

Iconic. That’s the word I would use to describe four-time Academy Award-winning costume and production designer Catherine Martin. She’s one of the most influential voices in the industry, and after her work in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, I’m confident that she’s on her way to winning a fifth trophy.

Martin, who won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and then another two for The Great Gatsby in 2014, regularly partners with the filmmaker and her husband, and is his right-hand woman when it comes to bringing his vision to life.

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Elvis is no exception. While Tom Hanks, Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge should be rightfully praised for their performances, their craft wouldn’t hit the same if it wasn’t for Martin’s creative flair.

Prior to shooting, Martin and her team spent years researching and compiling information that would help them build Elvis’s world accurately. From speaking to the rockstar’s loved ones to flipping through archives, Elvis was a beast of a job and possibly one of the hardest she’s done to date. 

“It was coping with the volume. There were creative challenges on the way, but it was just the sheer volume. From 9000 background extras, with 9000 separate costumes, to 93 costumes for Elvis, to 26 costumes for some of the Memphis Mafia,” Martin told The Latch.

“On Gatsby, we had 53 sets and I thought that was incredible but here we had over 90. So, it’s being able to meet the demands of production. Making sure everything is ready on time, and what you’ve done serves the story and Baz is happy with the staging.”

No production of this size is possible without a dedicated team of individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes — many who tend to go unrecognised. However, when watching Elvis, you can’t help but notice the sheer amount of time that has been spent on perfecting the details. 

“It took years. We went to Graceland a number of times. We read many books, we looked online tirelessly for images. I would say we have a million images on our computers that all relate to Elvis and his life and his style. It absolutely has been hugely extensive,” she admitted.

“As well as that, we talk to people, whether it’s the Lansky family who owns the Lansky Bros. — the shop in which we see Elvis looking at the window with the pink suit — or Baz talking to Elvis’s neighbours, who were his friends in the pentecostal church. It’s a combination of things.”

In the movie, Elvis’s Graceland home was designed to look exactly like the real thing. His outfits, along with Priscilla’s were created to support the story, something Martin gives Baz credit for. 

“Baz is always thinking when he’s writing the script, what clothes would go into what scene. There’s very much kind of direction from Baz, on what he would like to see. Then there’s a discussion and development between the two of us,” she said.

Now, Martin and the rest of her team can sit back and celebrate their achievements, as Elvis hits the big screen. 

Elvis will be released in HOYTS Cinemas nationwide on June 23.

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