McHenry County writer wins awards for ‘The Elvis Conspiracy’

Rikki Lee Travolta creates imaginative alternate history thriller

An alternate history for Elvis lies at the heart of "The Elvis Conspiracy" screenplay by Rikki Lee Travolta.

It’s 2024, and everyone is still talking about rock ’n’ roll icon and legend Elvis Presley. Focus is drawn to varied points in Elvis’ life as if he were different people: young Elvis, G.I. Elvis, Hollywood Elvis and Vegas Elvis. And we’re all pretty familiar with the current popular hot-topic films: Austin Butler/Baz Luhrmann’s epic “Elvis” and 2023′s Sofia Coppola-directed “Priscilla.”

McHenry County resident Rikki Lee Travolta explored an imaginative notion: What if Elvis were a character created by Colonel Tom Parker? What if Parker enlisted multiple men, plastic surgery and lip-synching to create The King? That’s the captivating premise of “The Elvis Conspiracy” – a dramatic thriller written by Travolta that blends facts and conspiracy theories, and has been so compellingly good that it’s won multiple awards in short order.

McHenry County's own Rikki Lee Travolta has been racking up awards for his imaginative screenplay "The Elvis Conspiracy."

Recent recognition from the Bridge Fest film festival marks the 14th time a best screenplay award has gone to the Travolta script. Past honors include the Cult Critic Choice Feature Script award, the Indo French international Film Festival Award for best script, best screenplay and the special jury award, and the Rome Prisma Film Awards, to mention just a few.

“The Elvis Conspiracy” is told from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker. His character is the lead role, a departure from other Elvis stories. The focus is on Parker as a man who literally invents Elvis, and is the puppet master of the story. Parker pulls the strings on Elvis’ life far more than just career decisions. Travolta says for the right actor, “It’s an Oscar-caliber role. Someone with a touch of quirkiness would really come alive in the part.” He suggests the ideal candidates: Johnny Depp, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Hank Azaria or Adrien Brody. He did think of Tom Hanks before Baz Luhrmann cast Hanks in his film.

Elvis is a supporting role, he said, but “one with award contender written all over it. The actor has to play four different men, all pretending to be Elvis at some point in his life.” Travolta’s shortlist for the Elvis role includes Antonio Cipriano, Tom Holland, Finn Cole and Dacre Montgomery. “But casting an unknown is always possible.”

Originally, Travolta started writing scripts as an actor wanting better roles for himself. “The story of Sylvester Stallone – being an unknown actor who wrote the role of Rocky for himself – is the kind of Cinderella story every aspiring actor dreams they could make happen for themselves. I was no different. I was writing characters I wanted to play.” He also confesses to musing that with his physical similarity to actor John Travolta, he would play young Elvis and John would play the older Las Vegas Elvis.

Having written the original script when he was barely in his 20s, Travolta revamped it over the years, changing the genre from drama to thriller, and adding an investigative reporter who chases the truth about Elvis through the decades. Travolta also wove in real conspiracy theories – both popular and obscure.

His challenge now is having “The Elvis Conspiracy” become a great film. He’s had interest from some streaming services; to quote Los Angeles television producer Sharon Nash Alexander, “‘The Elvis Conspiracy’ is a blockbuster film just waiting to happen. The script is amazing. Even before it’s on the big screen, it captures your attention.” Travolta wisely has retained an entertainment attorney; his literary agent retired, so he now is actively seeking another agent.

Travolta knows he’s been fortunate enough to win awards as an actor, writer, director and producer, “But the ultimate reward is hearing from people that they like my work.” He accepts a disability he has had to balance with other aspects of his life, and admits “those awards are a positive spotlight. It reminds me that even on dark days, there are great accomplishments to be made, and we are all capable of great things in our own way.”

The prolific Travolta has written other scripts in a variety of genres: the sci-fi superhero “Spirit Warrior”; the stoner comedy “Road Tripping” (also a multiple award winner); a drama based on his book “My Fractured Life”; the TV pilot “Champion of the People,” which had actor Corey Feldman and World Wrestling Entertainment’s Bret Hart attached; “The Western Hangman,” which is also a novel; the drama and short film award finalist “Someone Nice Like You”; and the sci-fi drama “Hero World,” with “Star Trek” actor Michael Dorn ready to star and direct.

Travolta‘s published books include “My Fractured Life,” “Blood Lust: A Fractured Life Saga” and “Unbecoming Travolta.” All three involve the “underbelly” of Hollywood and Travolta‘s exploits there. He’s currently working on a children’s book titled “Messy Mandy.”

Elvis made 31 films in 13 years, from 1956′s “Love Me Tender” to 1969′s “Change of Habit.” He had energy, presence, commitment and charisma – all characteristics I find present both in Rikki Lee Travolta himself and his script about the greatest entertainment swindle ever. What if there is more to the legend of Elvis than we know?

Find out more about Travolta’s projects at rikkileetravolta.com.

• Regina Belt-Daniels has directed Rikki Lee Travolta in two plays, and was honored to have read “The Elvis Conspiracy” (which she is sure is destined for greatness). She has been involved with theater since the first grade, and has acted in many capacities ranging from performer to director.