How 3 Oscar-Nominated Women Sparked a Burning Love for ‘Elvis’

TheWrap Screening Series: Oscar nominees Catherine Martin, Mandy Walker and Gail Berman can’t help falling into a lovely conversation about grit and girl power

Vivid, luscious, and operatic, “Elvis” is undoubtedly the vision of Baz Luhrmann. But the Australian director, as he’s done on all his features, collaborates with women at high levels all throughout his production team.

“We all stand there shoulder to shoulder with him,” said his lifelong costume designer, production designer, producer (and wife) Catherine Martin.

At TheWrap’s Screening Series Q&A for “Elvis,” Martin was joined with producer Gail Berman and cinematographer Mandy Walker for a spirited conversation about the making of the film.

“Elvis” is nominated for eight Oscars and all three women are nominated in their respective categories: Berman for Best Picture, Walker for Best Cinematography (only the third women ever nominated), and Martin for Best Picture, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

A four-time Oscar winner, Martin has won the production design and costume design awards twice (for “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby”), making her the winningest Australian in Academy Awards history.

In the clip above, Martin expressed her elation for the recognition that “Elvis” has received.

“I was particularly excited for two nominations,” she said. “Mandy’s historic nomination, one of only three women ever to be nominated for cinematography. It makes me feel emotional every time I think about it. That Mandy, who’s an extraordinary artist and such a wonderful person to boot, is being recognized for her work. And then also Best Picture, because I’m being nominated with another fellow woman, Gail, who is an extraordinary producer with an incredible career.”

Berman, who has served as president of both a film studio (Paramount Pictures) and television studio (Fox Broadcasting Company), expressed her gratitude back to Martin, referring to her as a canny “co-conspirator” during the long development of “Elvis.”

“I also had Catherine helping me from time to time,” Berman said. “I would go out to lunch with her in New York and I’d say, ‘Hey, you know, if we did this or if we did that.’ And I have to say, these are amazing women to be in the company of and I’m truly humbled and honored to be among them.”

Later in the conversation, Berman and Martin also paid tribute to the Presley family, especially Elvis and Pricilla’s daughter Lisa Marie, who died in January.  

“She was an extraordinary partner and a lovely person,” Berman said. “She was soft spoken and she was interested in what you had to say. And she was entirely gracious to us by opening up her home, Graceland, and throwing us a premiere party. So our loss, and obviously her family’s loss, is tremendous and we grieve for her and the family.”

Martin described the Presley family’s embrace of the film as one of the most touching things that has happened to her – and linked this film’s legacy to one of her and Luhrmann’s earliest movies, now seen as a modern classic.

“The Presley family has embraced the movie and they feel that it is a respectful telling of their father and grandfather’s life,” she said. “Time will tell whether the movie stands the test of time. We can’t be the arbiters of that. But Baz and I really love the fact that ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ even though it was made in the 90s, is still being seen by teenagers today. Particularly in school, much to our children’s chagrin.” 

Costume Designer Catherine Martin, Cinematographer Mandy Walker, & Producer Gail Berman, “Elvis”
(from left) Catherine Martin, Mandy Walker, and Gail Berman, Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

Martin continued, “We love that idea that you could, for a brief moment in time, have been part of making a story that talks to a larger human experience that people can share all around the world, at a time when we seem to be focusing on difference. The reality is, humans have far more in common than they do in conflict.”

Near the conversation’s end, Berman paused to point out the delight she felt in sharing time with her two colleagues and friends.

“I just want to highlight the girl power here,” she said. “Because these two women are great, great collaborators and people to hang out with. So in addition to their artistry, they’re just great girls.”

And whether they win or lose, the women promised to have a blast on Oscar night. March 12.

“Though not too much Champagne,” said Martin. “Okay, ladies?”

She will be a very good monitor,” said Berman.

“No, I’m the worst,” added Martin.

Watch the full interview with Catheine Martin, Gail Berman and Mandy Walker here.