NEW FACES

Meet Olivia DeJonge, Elvis’s Leading Lady

by Brooke LaMantia

Olivia sitting in a chair wearing a suit
Photo by Francis Hills

Olivia DeJonge’s first crush was more than just a crush—it was a source of inspiration that would change the trajectory of her entire life. She credits P.J. Hogan’s 2003 adaptation of Peter Pan, starring Jeremy Sumpter, with not only introducing her to romance, but also making her realize she wanted to be an actress. “I was fully in love with that man. I've never felt anything like it,” she clarifies over the phone. While DeJonge has not starred in any sequels to Peter Pan yet, her breakout role came with Netflix’s popular but short-lived 2019 series, The Society. And while many viewers are still upset about the show's cancellation, DeJonge did not miss a beat. Instead, she booked the role of Priscilla Presley in one of the most anticipated films of 2022.

Elvis, starring Austin Butler in the titular role and directed by Baz Luhrmann, follows the young singer during his rise to fame alongside the strained relationship between him and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Released in theaters June 24, the film is filled with the colorful, dazzling sequences Luhrmann is known for, but unlike the highly reported race on who will play Madonna in her upcoming biopic, the casting for this film went seemingly unnoticed until a final decision had been made. “I was desperate to throw my name in there, but I knew that everybody was going for it. I felt like I was never going to get it,” DeJonge remembers.

She auditioned for the role, thought she did a poor job, and asked for an extension. After she sent in her retake, she managed to let it go, figuring she would not be cast in Elvis at all, until a few months later during dinner with her agents. “We're talking about the film and I was like, Who ended up doing Elvis? Because I'm dying to know and I want to know what's up with that project,” she says. “And as we were talking about it, my agent got a text message saying that I was the choice. It was crazy synchronicity.”

As one of the few women in the film, and aside from Elvis Presley’s mother, Priscilla is the only person we see the musician rely on emotionally. We meet Priscilla while Elvis is serving overseas in the armed forces, and soon after, she quickly becomes a part of every scene, smiling and cheering him on in the background of every performance. However, as Elvis’s addictions and chaotic schedule gets in the way, we also witness the breakdown of their relationship.

For DeJonge, that vulnerability and femininity Priscilla embodied in those moments were the hardest for her to nail, saying that it “felt like a far stretch within myself.” Of course, she felt nervous to play such an iconic woman, but all of those feelings were quelled when the pair met after filming, and later, at the Cannes film festival when they shared a hug during the film’s 12-minute standing ovation.

The 24-year-old actress was born in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to Perth at the age of six. After deciding she wanted to act, her parents enrolled her in a small art school’s acting program. It wasn’t that serious, but she loved it and it served as her extracurricular activity since she wasn’t good at any sports. At 13, she got an agent in the U.S., and her Australian agents had to sit her parents down to let them know that their lives were about to change. “They were so chill about the whole thing. My agents told them, I think you need to take this a bit more seriously because she could make a good career out of it,” she says. “I got lucky, though, because my parents encouraged me—but they never pushed me.”

After filming Elvis in late 2020, she joined HBO Max’s The Staircase, alongside a cast including Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Sophie Turner, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and Odessa Young. On set, DeJonge says learned so much from watching Collete, who plays Kathleen Peterson, a woman whose mysterious death launches a years-long investigation into her husband Michael Peterson (Firth). DeJonge plays Caitlin Atwater, Kathleen’s daughter from a previous marriage, and proves to be an integral part of the case.

“Oftentimes, I find myself playing a different version of myself, but watching Toni, as soon as you yell action, she's a different person,” DeJonge says of her time spent on set for The Staircase. “It encouraged me to take a lot more risks in my projects moving forward, in terms of making bolder character choices that feel maybe a little foreign to me right now.” She hasn't had the chance to get back on set and put those new skills to work yet, but she's eager. She’s also trying to just stay present—after all, the release of Elvis has brought new energy to her world.

“Trying to get jobs and to make a career out of something that at times can feel so impossibly out of reach is scary,” DeJonge says, adding, “It is nice to have a moment where you can relax and enjoy it.”