Reel Beach: Leslieville’s Ari Cohen on his role in Priscilla and working with Sofia Coppola

Leslieville’s Ari Cohen plays the role of Capt. Paul Beaulieu in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, which opens in theatres on Nov. 3.


In Priscilla (in theatres Nov. 3), Leslieville’s Ari Cohen plays Capt. Paul Beaulieu, the concerned stepfather to the lovesick, 14-year-old schoolgirl who meets the King of Rock n’ Roll in Germany in 1959.

Priscilla’s parents try to discourage the romance, but she moves behind the gates of Graceland, a lonely princess trapped in a gilded cage.

The Beaulieus were put in a difficult position. As a parent what would you do?

Here’s my interview with Ari Cohen:

1. You play Priscilla’s father Captain Paul Beaulieu who is put in a very difficult position when Priscilla meets Elvis. How does a protective parent walk that line? How might things be different today?

Great question! I think any parents first priority is to keep their kids safe. Maybe a close second is wanting your kids to be happy. This is Paul’s essential dilemma when deciding what to do about Elvis.

I think Paul is able to satisfy himself that Priscilla will be safe when visiting with Elvis while they are all in Germany and he gives pretty strict parameters with curfew etc. I think after meeting Elvis and his father Vernon he is convinced that Elvis’ intentions are honourable and that she will be well chaperoned when going back to America to finish high school.

Perhaps he also feels some guilt in having taken her halfway around the world to yet another army base in a strange land and she is clearly miserable in Germany.

It can’t have been an easy decision and of course we know a lot more about Elvis now then Priscilla’s parents did then.

I think any parent making a decision like they did, today, would be very harshly judged and perhaps rightly so.

My generation certainly tend more to helicopter parenting than my parents and certainly my grandparents generations.

2. How was the experience working with Sofia Coppola?

Incredible. Sofia was very clear in her point of view and intention as a film maker but also very open and collaborative.

The set had a very familial feel to it. Both Sofia’s mother and kids were around at various times and her brother Roman is an executive producer on the film and did some second unit directing.

It was clear that this was a family that had grown up on film sets and everyone was made to feel very much at home in the studio and on location. It was a very creative atmosphere.

3. The film has received rave reviews. Screen Daily writes, “There’s a lovely meld of production design and lensing…that brings the viewer directly to a time and place and a feeling.” How did the Toronto crew help set the mood which is so vital in a period piece?

Again, this really flows down from Sofia. I think it is the mark of a very mature artist to be willing to lean on her collaborators as much as she does.

The cinematographer and costume designer had worked with Sofia numerous times before but it was the first time for the Toronto based production designer, who did an extraordinary job. The attention to detail in the design was very exacting in both faithfulness to the period and also to specific details from archival photos from Graceland.

It was a great marriage of historical accuracy and creative license and of course our crews here are as good as anywhere in the world.

In terms of setting mood, Sofia loves to use music on set, which I’d never experienced before. She puts together a playlist and before rolling on a scene selects a specific song to help set the mood and tone both for the actors and the crew.

It is a very freeing and visceral way to get everyone in the room on the same page.

4. Rolling Stone called the film “a heartbreaking journey into the dark heart of celebrity.” How do you think Elvis fans will react to his portrayal in Priscilla?

I think Jacob did a wonderful job of embodying Elvis through all the various periods, while at the same time avoiding mimicry.

I also think it’s pretty clear from the opening frames of the movie (and certainly the title!) that the story is told very much from Priscilla’s point of view and while their relationship is definitely the focal point of the movie, it is very focused on her perspective.

5. What’s your favourite spot in the East End of Toronto?

Oh man, tough to pick a favourite as there are so many great spots!

I think I have to go with Gio Rana’s (The Nose). I think I’ve eaten everything on the menu and it never disappoints.

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