Mandy Walker was just three days away from starting principal production as director of photography on Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic when word went out it was shutting down.
- The set of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic has been shut down for the past four months
- Cinematographer Mandy Walker says a plan is being worked on for people to return safely to work
- Walker, from Melbourne, has a long list of credits of major films including the upcoming Disney blockbuster Mulan
It was March and the early days of the pandemic in Australia, but things definitely ramped up a notch when the film’s star Tom Hanks — playing Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker — and his wife, Rita Wilson, were diagnosed with COVID-19 on location on the Gold Coast.
Walker says until then the virus had not been very prominent in Australia, and the production — filming at Queensland’s Village Roadshow Studios — was one of the few in the world that had yet to shut down.
And then it all changed — as Hanks became one of the most famous names in the world to become embroiled in the early spread of coronavirus.
“It brought it all home to us that it was close, you know, that we weren’t in our little film in a little bubble and it was a reality that was affecting [everyone],” Walker says.
“You understood the responsibility of the production to keep people safe when it was an unknown situation.
“We were all prepped and raring to go, because we were only three days away from shooting.
“But then Tom got sick and we all knew that we could go into hiatus.”
Hanks and Wilson, of course, have made a full recovery, but after Luhrmann announced the shutdown of the projecton March 20, there is still no date of when filming will recommence.
There are continuing assurances it will ramp up again, however, and everyone is working on a plan to get safely back to work, says Walker, who has been on location since pre-production began in November.
Walker has previously worked with Luhrmann as director of photography on the epic Australia in 2008, as well as Chanel No.5 commercials starring Nicole Kidman and Gisele Bunchen.
The details about the as-yet untitled Elvis film, featuring Austin Butler as the king, are still under wraps but she can’t wait for production to restart.
“It’s exciting to be working with Baz again because he’s such a visionary,” she says.
“And there’s a lot of great historical references about what was going on in society in the time of Elvis and how it affected music and him,” she says.
In the meantime, Walker, 57, who is from Melbourne originally but lives in Los Angeles, has remained on the Gold Coast with her daughter, Ruby — who is also working on the film as a researcher — and husband, Stuart.
Walker has been using the past four months to continue to do visual research for the film.
“I’m always continuing to…