The Passion Within The Ambition

A Local Actor Gambles on a Life in the Arts and Wins

Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Hayley Andoff Photography

Sofia Coppola’s new movie, Priscilla—based upon the memoir of Elvis Presley’s wife, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley—features a Windsor actor in a key role. 

Written and directed by Coppola—who earned the 2003 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her film Lost in the Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson—the movie tells the story of Priscilla Presley’s life and her tumultuous marriage to Elvis. She once lived the fantasy of many women around the world, but also a private nightmare: married to the most famous man in the world, yet a veritable prisoner inside the gaudy opulence of Graceland. That world exploded in the early 1970s when Priscilla met, befriended and ultimately had a relationship with martial arts legend, Mike Stone. 

Stone’s role in Priscilla Presley’s life is like a sliver of anti-matter: small, yet overwhelmingly profound. After all, he was viewed for years (incorrectly, it turns out) to be the cause of Priscilla’s divorce from Elvis. The role of Mike Stone in the movie Priscilla is no less significant and it is portrayed by Windsor actor, Evan Annisette.

Evan came to the part, and acting, in somewhat the same way: from left field.

In 2014, Evan was two years into a Criminology degree at Carlton University when he came to a startling realization: “This is not the path I want to take,” he thought. “I went to my sister Megan and told her: ‘I am not digging my program.”

Evan originally wanted to get into law, but as that ambition dissolved, he found something unexpected underneath. 

“What do you want to do?” Megan asked him.

“I want to be an actor.” 

No one was more surprised by that revelation than Evan himself.

“I was a shy kid,” he explains. “I never did a lot of drama in school. The desire to act was something that manifested itself over a long time. Film, and the arts in general, were always comforting to me. I always wanted to be a creative of some kind, but I never saw a feasible way of attaining that.” 

The elation Evan felt finding his passion in life was tempered by the reality of breaking the news to his parents.

“When I dropped the bomb about leaving school, they were shocked,” he recalls. “But from the moment I told them I wanted to act; my parents were very supportive. Not everyone has that. I am so grateful that I do!” 

Evan enrolled in the Toronto Film School’s (TFS) Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program. Upon graduation he applied to attend—and was accepted at—the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in England where he completed a master’s degree in classical theatre.

It was, however, training he received many years before that was instrumental in Evan landing the role of martial arts expert, Mike Stone, in the movie Priscilla.

“Some early advice I received was: ‘Think carefully what you put on your resume,’ because you never know what may be relevant,” Evan says. “I studied karate during my formative years at Mr. Kersey’s Karate School in Forest Glade. It was a big part of my childhood. I got my black belt when I was about fourteen years old. I hadn’t kept it up, but it’s in my wheelhouse so I put it on my resume.”

Evan’s agent called him about the role of Mike Stone, but had to verify: “You really know karate?”

“Yes, I actually do,” Evan told him. He reflects: “That was helpful in being considered for the role. It felt like a full-circle moment to audition to play Mike Stone, an incredible karate world champion, and that Sensei Kersey knew him!” 

It took more than an interesting skill on a resume for Evan to land the role of Mike Stone. Harnessing his singular ability to focus on a goal and attain it—making the cut for TFS, being accepted to LAMDA, landing roles in TV productions, such as Locke & Key, The Kings of Napa as well as Five Days at Memorial—Evan lasered-in on playing Mike Stone. 

Once he got the role, the work didn’t end there.

“I have these few minutes onscreen and I wanted to maximize them,” Evan explains. “I was definitely given leeway to express myself through the character, but I also remembered: ‘This is an actual person.’ It was an interesting acting challenge. I was not impersonating Mike Stone, I had to play him through me.”

Evan credits Sofia Coppola for bringing a great performance out of him.

“Sofia is such a great director because she is really good with people,” he says. “That became obvious on set in the way she moved and directed this massive machine—the production—while getting great performances from the actors. I was prepared, but I was very nervous. She gave me the direction to get out of that place and bring my best to the performance.”

Evan is also quick to compliment his co-star, Cailee Spaeny, who plays Priscilla Presley. 

“She was amazing,” he says. “She gave me so much generous feedback. It felt so easy. I was just being.”

When asked how he would advise young people aspiring to become actors, Evan says: “It’s not easy! Advice comes with caveats. You have to really, really want it. For as long as it took me to decide this was something I wanted to do, I wondered: ‘Am I setting myself up for failure?’ I would be doing this even if I wasn’t being paid. Be kind. Be willing to learn. Show up early. Be prepared. Be ready to fall on your face. Stay hungry!” 

A24, the production company behind Priscilla, is renowned in the industry for the quality of its films. Among them is Academy Award winning Everything Everywhere All at Once. Other notable titles include Hereditary and Midsommar by director Ari Aster as well as Beau Is Afraid starring Joaquin Phoenix.

“A24 is a favourite production company,” Evan notes. “I love everything they do. To be in an A24 film is a dream come true.”

Priscilla received rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival last month. It goes to the New York Film Festival on October 6. After that, A24 will release it to the public on November 3. 

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