Tom Hanks’ Accent in Elvis: Did He Change His Voice to Play Colonel Tom Parker?

Tom Hanks’ accent while playing Colonel Tom Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic ‘Elvis’ has polarized viewers and critics alike. While some have found it unbearable, several others have lauded it. Hanks, who is renowned for transforming into his characters as authentically as possible, divided his admirers with his voice in the biographical drama. The actor uses an unignorable voice in the film, which is severely different from his real one. In addition to changing the way he spoke, he worked on an accent that reveals Parker’s mysterious roots!

The Story Behind Tom Hanks’ Accent and Voice

Tom Hanks uses a Dutch-American accent in ‘Elvis’ by integrating it into a strange voice. Director Baz Luhrmann was inspired by the way the real Colonel Tom Parker spoke to conceive his character with such an accent and voice. The filmmaker went to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s house and currently a museum, for his research to make the film, only to find a series of recordings of Parker. According to Baz, the late talent manager had “very strange vocalizations” in those recordings. Those materials thus became the foundation of Hanks’ accent and voice in the film.

“One moment he [Parker] had be sort of speaking like Bela Lugosi, and the next moment he’d be sort of speaking with thith lithp like Elmer Fudd a bit, but with this kind of strange cadence,” Baz said about Parker’s accent, mimicking the latter’s lisp from the tapes, as per SFGate. “… And so the thing was to lay crumbs, enough for people to go, like, ‘What’s that all about?’” he added. The filmmaker knew that the accent of Hanks’ Parker would provoke the viewers. “We were consciously getting audiences to lean forward and go, ‘What the hell is that all about?’” he said in the same interview.

Parker’s biographer Alanna Nash, however, deemed Hanks’ accent inaccurate. After the film’s release, the veteran music journalist talked about how the accent in the biographical drama is not authentic from her experience of talking to Parker himself for the book ‘The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.’

The Authenticity of Tom Hanks’ Accent

According to Nash, the real Parker had a rural American accent rather than a Dutch-American one. “Hanks gives Parker a pan-European-cum-Nazi accent, but in real life, most people bought his story of hailing from Huntington, West Virginia, a relatively isolated area in the ’50s,” Nash wrote for Vanity Fair. “Near the end of the film, Elvis learns that Parker is not an American, and doesn’t have a passport, which means Elvis will never fulfill his dream of playing in Europe. That never happened — Elvis died not knowing of Parker’s illegal status — but he would have had to have had a tin ear not to pick up on an accent as obvious as Hanks’s,” the journalist added.

Although Parker was from the Netherlands, he could hide his Dutch tongue with a Southern accent, as per Nash. “[Parker’s accent] was more American, more rural. And he had what sounded like a slight lisp or speech impediment. Turns out he didn’t have an impediment — he was just trying to wrap a Dutch tongue around the English language, Southern style. It sounded like a weird [Southern] regional dialect, and you would know it was Dutch only by listening for certain consonants,” Nash told Variety.

In an interview with Nash, Baz explained why he deviated from Parker’s real voice. The filmmaker told the journalist that he wanted Hanks to play the character with a certain “strangeness” that would make the audience think “What is going on with this guy?”

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