Luke Bracey wanted to be a rugby player – now the charismatic Australian actor is starring in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic. He tells his close friend and former co-star Emma Roberts about finding his calling,
Our interviewer is herself no stranger to the movie industry – indeed, Emma Roberts starred with Bracey in the romantic comedy Holidate and the upcoming Maybe I Do. The two are old friends, and their natural warmth and camaraderie makes for a delightful conversation. We hope you enjoy it.
Emma Roberts: I’m in LA, just sitting at home; I love you’re doing this from a pub in London – it’s quite fitting.
LB: Well, yes, it is, isn’t it? I thought, you know, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? It’s six in the afternoon, and it’s a lovely day here. I’m taking it easy. I’ve just had a little holiday, actually, to Amsterdam, which was fun.
ER: What did you do?
LB: Well, it was a friend’s birthday. I went over and had a nice weekend. Our friend’s brother lives there. He said, “Oh, if you’re going back on Monday, you should stay until Wednesday, because on Wednesday it’s the King’s birthday, and it’s this big party.” So I stayed until Thursday. And then on Thursday, I decided to miss my flight and stay for another day. I’ve just been travelling around.
ER: I love that. I feel like you’re always travelling around and always seeing friends, and always doing something really fun. I was very excited to talk to you for this interview, because I feel like I have so many questions that I haven’t got to ask you in our endless hours on set together.
LB: We never talk about any work stuff.
ER: We love to share a newspaper and talk about current events. It was funny because I was like, “Oh, what do I ask Luke?” Like, you know when you feel like you know someone so well that you can’t go backwards to small talk? But we’re going to go backwards to small talk, a little bit.
LB: Sounds good.
ER: So, can you tell me how a boy from Australia got into acting and is now travelling the world being in movies, please?
LB: I never wanted to be in movies or to be an actor. Then I finished high school, and a guy I went to school with and played rugby with, his father is a big TV producer in Australia. He called me up one day. I think I was on schoolies – when you finish school you go to a big party for a week or two, and you’re 18 and debaucherous, and you’re celebrating the fact that you’re an adult now.
He called me when I was on schoolies and said, “Can you come and audition for something I’m making?” I did drama as a subject in my last year at school. He might have seen me in something that I did for that. So I went along to the audition, and they kept bringing me back. I obviously had no idea what was going on.
Apparently, they were callbacks, and then I was suddenly working with an actress, and it was a chemistry read. I didn’t end up getting that job, and so I just went on with my life. I wanted to be a rugby player. I was trying to be a builder with my dad, and I was going to go to university for that. Then the casting agent called me back a few months later and asked me to audition for Home and Away.
ER: Yes, I know it. I feel like that’s a rite of passage, as an Australian actor. Like, you’re on Home and Away.
LB: It is. You’re on Home and Away. If you’re serious about it, you can get yourself on Home and Away. I wasn’t serious about it, and I fell on Home and Away – my first couple of days were really terrifying. Then they were really fun. I remembered I was getting paid after, like, three days.
I went, “Oh, fuck, I’m getting paid to do this, and it’s paying a lot more than my mates who were working in pubs. This is pretty good.” I just really enjoyed it. I had to tell my father that I wasn’t going to be a builder for him. He said, “Oh, no.”
ER: What did your family say when you were like, “I’m going to pursue acting”?
LB: Originally, when I said I got this job on TV, they were a bit, “Oh, that’s a bit strange.” I said, “Well, it’s not everyday you get asked to be on TV, so I think I’ll do it.” They said, “Oh yeah, you ought to do it.” I was like, 18 or 19.
ER: Everyone says this about people and sometimes it’s not true, but it’s true about you. You’re such a normal, down-to-earth person, and that’s why we’re such good friends, and you’re so not the ‘actor-y’, looking-in-the-mirror type of guy. That’s why I was like, “Yeah, why did Luke become an actor? Why did he go to the dark side?” But I love you wanting to be a builder and rugby player.
LB: Yes, exactly, and why I did it was because I just got an opportunity and I found it really fun – and the pay was good. I was like, ‘Wow, this is probably more exciting than measuring a house.’ So, I just kept doing it.
Then my dad asked me after a couple of weeks I’d been on it, when I was going to be back working for him. So I asked the production and they said, “Oh, no, we really liked your first couple of weeks, so we’ve written you in for six months.” I went, “Oh, OK,” and I told my dad, and I was like, “Oh, it’s probably going to be a while, man.”
ER: That is so funny.
LB: I didn’t have an agent or anything at this point in my career. With Home and Away, it’s like a three-month gap between filming and when it airs. Then, when my stuff started airing, agents were calling the network to try and meet with me. So I met with a few agents, and met with one, and he said, “Hey, if you do this, this and this, there’s no reason we can’t go alright in America.” So I went, “OK, what do I have to do?”
He told me some classes to go to, and some things to work on, and I suddenly was an actor. I’d saved a bunch of my money from Home and Away, so I had a number of months, five months, where I was suddenly an actor that didn’t have to have a job. Then I got a movie that was filming in Europe for 20th Century Fox, and I went to Europe and filmed that.
ER: Which one was that?
LB: Monte Carlo.
ER: Oh, my God, yes, yes, yes, I definitely, definitely saw that when it came out. Oh, my God, that’s so funny and then made your way over to America, as you do.
LB: Yes. I was lucky – I did an American film before I went to LA, so that made life a bit easier when you get to LA, right? You don’t have to go and put headshots in and try to get meetings. I’d been in a meeting. So agents and managers wanted to meet me. My first week in LA was just meeting agents and all that.
I felt, “OK, this is alright. There are people that think I can do this, so maybe I’ll be alright.” My parents still – they still stress, but I can’t imagine what it was like, in the first couple of years, when their son suddenly moved to Los Angeles and said he was going to be an actor.
ER: That’s hilarious; I love that so much. I know, it’s so funny. I remember when we were doing the chemistry read for Holidate, and I didn’t know that you were Australian. No one told me that John, our director, had told you to do the audition in an Australian accent. So, you started doing an Australian accent and I was like, “Oh, my God, what? This character is not Australian.”
John was like, “No, no, I told him to be Australian.” I was like, “OK, well, maybe let me know,” because here I am being like, “Wait, what?” I was like, “You’re Australian?” I’d seen you doing American only, and I was like, “Wait, what’s happening?”
LB: There was so much confusion, I hadn’t realised that you had started reading! It was just this, like, 30 seconds of ultimate confusion, and then we just started laughing and thought it was really, really funny. Then we went, “Oh, this should probably work now.” It was kind of like those 30 seconds where we were like, “Oh, this’ll probably work then, if we do this.”
ER: Totally. But that’s the thing that I loved so much, too, is that they totally tailored that role to both you and I. I think that’s what made it so unique. It was more fun than us trying to fit into a certain box. But yes, I was like, “He’s Australian.”
LB: I think that’s what we enjoyed about that. It’s like we got there, and we were allowed to, kind of, be us, a little bit. I remember getting to Atlanta and you and I having a beer at the pub, and a bite to eat and just laughing about how our conversations were very similar.
ER: You’re also the only person I’ll drink a beer with. I don’t drink beer with anyone except for you. Then, you actually taught me that beer does get you drunk, because I didn’t know before.
LB: Well, stick with me, you’ll be alright.
ER: So we did Holidate – it was the year before lockdown, and it was such a free, fun time. Then, I didn’t see you for years. So, what’s your favourite thing you’ve done since, and what’s the next thing that’s coming out? Tell me.
LB: Well, yes, everything went to shit, didn’t it? And we didn’t get to hang out or go anywhere, no one did. But I was lucky; I was back in Australia when it all was bad, when it all started. Suddenly, halfway through 2020, I was thinking, “You’ll never work again,” because our industry requires people to be closer than 1.5m from each other.
I suddenly got a call saying, “Baz Luhrmann would like to have a chat with you, about being in the Elvis biopic, playing Elvis’s best mate.” So that was pretty awesome. September 2020, I went up to Queensland and I had the most amazing six months making a crazy movie. You know what it’s like on those big ones, where you’re still just so blown away by the size of them.
You are transported, you have those funny days. I remember going up so many days on set on Elvis where you’d get to work in the studio. Everything is normal and then, suddenly, 300 people who are dressed as the 1960s walk past you in single file into a studio. Then these old cars go past and you’re just going, “Wow, this is huge.” So yes, that was a really fun one. That’s probably one of the best things I got to do in the pandemic, for sure.
ER: Not only a once-in-a-lifetime job, but also just experience to have, where you’re transported to a different world, when the world is in the midst of something so insane. I’m so glad you got to do that. It was so cool, too, because I remember my mum was the one that told me. She was like, “Emma, do you know Luke is going to be in the Elvis movie?”
I was like, “I didn’t.” She was like, “Oh, my gosh, have you congratulated him?” I was like, “I haven’t talked to him in a bit.” My mum was so excited, because as you know, my mum is your biggest fan. She still cries about you in Hacksaw Ridge. I was like, “To know that movie verbatim, I’m a little concerned for you.” Yes, it was so cute.
She told me, and I was like, “Oh, my God.” Then I looked it up and I saw that you are playing Elvis’s manager and best friend. What’s his name, tell me?
LB: His name is Jerry Schilling, and I just found out that he saw the movie recently and really liked it.
ER: Oh, good. We love getting the real person’s check of approval!
LB: That was, yes, a nice stress relief.
ER: Obviously, six months is such a long time to work together, and it feels like it was a very intense and intimate project. Did you guys become like a family, a pod? Did you all stay in the same place? What was it like?
LB: Yes, we stayed at this place on the Gold Coast called Peppers, which is a new apartment building. We were all in the one spot. There was a great restaurant downstairs called The Social that we would congregate at. If you ever wanted to see anyone, if you were a bit lonely, you just had to get the elevator down and then walk out, and someone would be sitting at this restaurant having a bite to eat or having a glass of wine.
We had a great crew on it. It was such a good group of people, and we would even party together on the weekends. Everyone was aware that we were doing something pretty awesome, in a pretty crazy time. That made it even more special. We were so aware of how lucky we were to be working, first and foremost. Then, the second thought was, “Oh, my God, we’re working on, potentially, one of the biggest movies ever.” It was a great moment.
ER: Luke, remember when I said, “Is this going to be the best movie ever?” You’re like, “Could be, I don’t know. Could be.”
LB: It really could be.
ER: Did you know anyone beforehand? Or did you guys all meet on this?
LB: I knew Richard Roxburgh who plays Elvis’ dad – Vernon Presley. We’d done two movies together but hadn’t been in scenes together. But I knew him just through being in the films. He is the best dude ever. He actually lives just up the road from my parents. I would see him before we did the movie.
ER: Australia is, like, the small town of Hollywood. You guys all know each other, it’s so funny. I love how much you guys stick together. I’m like, “I need to be Australian in my next life.”
LB: It’s like a nod and a wink, if you know what I mean? You’re like, “Oh, yes, there you are.” So, I knew Richard. Maybe I didn’t really know anyone else, actually. But I tell you what, we became fast friends, and we had a really good group of people on it – like cast, crew, we all became friends. It was our little world that we created up there, because that was our little world, because everyone was in their own little world.
We were just lucky that our little world included friends that we’d made, and that life was really, really normal on the Gold Coast at that time. There was no Covid. So, we got to have a normal life.
ER: That’s so good. It seems like there are such good vibes around this movie. I almost died seeing Austin Butler on the Met Gala carpet with Priscilla Presley. It was such an iconic picture. Did you see them together?
LB: I just saw it briefly, yes, it was good to see. I think she saw it and she really loved it, as well. I think she saw it with Jerry, the guy that I play. They watched it together and they both really liked it. For Austin’s sake, that’s a big load off that she loved it, and got the tick of approval. She’s the only person that really matters in a way. If she liked the film, nothing else really matters.
I remember doing Hacksaw Ridge and we were doing some press for that, and we met some veterans of Hacksaw Ridge. And we screened the movie for them – they were 90-something-year-old guys who were actually there. This was just before the movie came out, and we met them after. They loved it. They thought the movie was amazing. I was with Mel [Gibson] and Vince [Vaughan] and Andrew [Garfield], and everyone just went, “Oh, well, you know it doesn’t really matter what everyone else thinks.” That’s a nice weight off your shoulders.
ER: It’s a real cherry on top, when everyone else likes it too. I feel like everybody loved Hacksaw and everyone is going to love this. So this was probably checking something off a bucket list – working with Baz Luhrmann, doing such an iconic biopic, playing a real person. I would love to play a real person.
LB: Have you ever done it?
ER: No, I don’t think so. My dream is to play Joan Didion, and you know how much I love me some Joan Didion.
LB: Oh, you love Joan. Rest in peace, Joan. It was really sad when we lost her.
ER: Rest in peace, Joan. But I feel like she’s someone that I could, aesthetically, look like. Because you know I’m so small. There are some people that I would love to play but I’m below the height limit. Tell me something that’s a bucket list goal for you?
LB: I’d always loved movies that took you somewhere you hadn’t been, or that were exotic. There’s something about an ‘Indiana Jones’ type, kind of film, but an original version of it. It would be really nice to create your own seminal character, if you know what I mean. I think that would be really fun. You know, to create a swashbuckling-type, enigmatic adventurer figure.
ER: You’d be so good as that. We should make that.
LB: I love Indiana Jones, I love The Thomas Crown Affair, The Talented Mr Ripley is a great movie, but maybe without the murder.
ER: There has to be some great out-of-print Australian book that we can find.
LB: Well, there’s got to be some amazing real-life people through history and present day that have these incredible sagas of their life that would be really interesting to take inspiration from, or play. But I think, like, a big saga-type thing.
ER: A big epic. I’ll join you on that one.
LB: Please do. Please do. You’ll have to find a big sweeping epic where there are a bunch of extras, and we’re in exotic location and it’s beautiful, and everything means something.
ER: Oh, my God, I would love that. That sounds heavenly.
LB: It would be so fun, wouldn’t it?
ER: That would be so fun. Where everything means something. Oh, I love that. OK, so what are you going to do the rest of the day? Let’s talk about today and be in the moment. What’s the rest of the day going to be like?
LB: The rest of the day, I am going to, probably, sit here at this lovely little pub in Highbury, Islington. I’m going to have a couple of beers, in the sunshine, and they do great Thai food here, apparently. So, maybe I’ll have a bite to eat, and take it very easy.
ER: Thai food… at the pub?
LB: Yes, apparently, they’ve got a Time Out here that says it’s the best Thai in the area.
ER: I love you not being deterred by Thai food at a pub, at all. That’s one of the things I really love about you, Luke Bracey.
LB: I trust them. If they’re advertising it, I’m going to take their word for it.
ER: Do you know what your next project is? What are you working on next?
LB: I actually don’t have anything that I’m working on right now. I’ve got a few things that I’ve made in the past couple of years that are waiting to get finished and get made – stuff like that. So I’m taking a little bit of time to breathe a bit, and to be quite discerning about what I want to do next. I don’t exactly know. You and I just did that great movie Maybe I Do.
ER: I was about to ask you about it. I was going to say, “I was so honoured that you joined me on Maybe I Do.”
LB: I was already in the discerning mode, and then Maybe I Do came about. I went, “Well, I have to do this.” So, it’s moments like that I’m going to be really receptive to – you messaging me and saying, “This is a great script, please read it and I hope you like it,” and me reading it once and going, “This is awesome. I can’t wait to work with Emma Roberts again.”
ER: I like that you’re leaving out the part where I was like, “You have to do this. You’re the only one. Please, please, please.” There was a bit of begging at the end of that text.
LB: I was going to throw you to the wolves with that.
ER: Throw me to the wolves, thank you. It was Richard Gere, Diane Keaton, William H Macey and Susan Sarandon playing our collective parents. So, I have a feeling I wasn’t the only neck reaching over the edge – we got to work with actual icons where you and I would look at each other being like, “How are we in the same room with these people?”
LB: In your defence, Emma, they weren’t all attached when you sent me the message and the script. It was you and it was, maybe, Diane and maybe Bill was in negotiations. So, I thought, “This is going to be all good.”
ER: Thank you, thank you. It was because of me.
LB: You got me over the line.
ER: I’ll take the credit. No, that was such a fun one and I loved doing that with you, because even though we did the romantic comedy thing in Holidate, this was – I wouldn’t even call it a ‘romantic comedy’. To me, the tone was much more like Family Stone. It was so heartfelt, and I felt like we were playing much more grounded, real people. I just loved getting to do that with you.
LB: We had a lot in line with the script as well. It was. That’s what I loved about it – “Oh, we can build on what we did on Holidate, you and I.” We’ve got something with a little bit more meat on the bones, in terms of our scenes and our dynamic. That was what was really exciting for us. We had so much fun, and I think, did a good job. In Holidate I thought, “Wow, we could really have just as much fun, if not more,” and then take the next step up, rather than go sideways.
ER: And be a lot more serious.
LB: Yes, exactly, and tackle something that was cognisant to both of us and people in general in our age group. It’s kind of the big question when you get to this point in your life about spending the rest of it with someone. Yes, that always really interested me.
ER: I loved that it really begged the question of – do people get married anymore and should people get married? Is wanting to get married the wrong thing? Is it old-fashioned? And I liked that it asked those questions with us, but then also with Diane Keaton’s character and Susan Sarandon’s character, and you really see all different sides of the coin. I love that.
Michael Jacobs, the writer and director text me the other day. He said, “I think you’re really going to like what I’m doing.” I was so excited, because he was so fun to work with. I feel like he really challenged us to be different than we’ve been and didn’t let us rest on any of our laurels. It was really fun. I felt like I was in an acting class during the day.
LB: It did feel it, didn’t it?
ER: Because some of those scenes were, like, five pages long. We would just run them, run them, run them. I feel like he gave us some really funny and also priceless advice – the one he gave us both was to never exhale on a line. You and I were, like, “We’re never going to exhale again, for the rest of our lives.”
LB: I never will. Never again in our lives, for the rest of our lives. Unless they absolutely need it, I’m never doing it. I’m going to take that with me, forever.
ER: Yes, unless it’s a sigh. Unless it’s a sigh, I will never exhale again.
LB: Exactly. Never again. Oh, it was really great. It was a bit of a lesson, wasn’t it? It was exactly what we both wanted. When you go into a job, there are certain things you expect to learn, or expect to do, or expect to take from it. That one for me, everything I thought I would learn from it, I learnt other stuff that was more important.
ER: I feel the same. There were scripts that had come both of our ways that people wanted us to reunite on, after Holidate. You and I were both like, “Oh, I can’t do this together because it’s not the right one.” Then, this one came, and we were like, “Alright, this is the one.” Granted, the next one we do will be an epic in Hawaii.
LB: And if Hawaii is not available, we’ll make sure the Amalfi Coast is free.
ER: Oh, yes, please, yes, Capri. Something fabulous.
LB: We don’t want to be picky, but we want to do something really nice.
ER: We don’t want to be at all picky, but we want to shoot during the day, somewhere tropical together, and not work every day. Just little wishes. But Luke, you know how much I love you, and I’m so excited to see Elvis, and I can’t wait to see what you do next. I can’t wait to work together again, and I can’t wait to go to the pub with you again.
LB: Yes, you’re the best. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day and doing this. You are awesome. I love working with you, love being your mate, looking forward to going to the pub as soon as possible, and making another film.