‘Elvis’ Star Austin Butler On How Playing The King Changed His Life –

Even before the 31-year-old actor landed the role of Elvis Presley, Austin Butler’s tenacious work ethic had become famous in Hollywood. But bagging the role of a lifetime, in Baz Luhrmann’s titular film, the actor truly proved his dedication beyond any expectations. Butler may have moved on to his next projects (among them Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg). Masters of the AirAnd TELA: PART TWOcurrently in production) but he still likes to talk about playing Elvis and describes how his goal was to capture both the physical reflection and soul of the man.

DEADLINE: You spent over two years getting into character for this, and now it’s been a few months. Elvis Come out. Have you been able to shake it off or is there something that has stayed with you from playing Elvis?


Austin Butler: I think there always will be. It was such a big part of my life that I wasn’t doing anything else, so there are parts of it that will be embedded in my DNA. But I feel that since I am playing other roles now, I am able to give myself over to the passion of each character. And so, in a way, that has been my process in being able to shed it to some extent.

DEADLINE: You’ve talked before about wanting to make Elvis human. What do you think this film adds to his legacy?

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley

Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

Butler: Well, I know the moment I met Lisa Marie or I met Priscilla, Elvis stopped being this icon. In those moments you realize so deeply how he is a father, and he is a husband and a son. Even though Priscilla and Lisa weren’t involved in the creation of my film, or reading the script or anything, I felt this deep obligation to them, because of the fact that they were so human to them. So, I know that was something that was at the heart of it for me, as far as legacy. When I think about it, just on a family level, it’s something that I’m very proud of, and very grateful for, because I didn’t know how they would respond to that. The fact that they moved, it really meant a lot to me.


DEADLINE: How did you overcome the fear and trepidation of playing such a famous person?


Butler: Well, as you say, I just close my eyes and I think about the fear that I actually felt. It was very intense. One, I was very lucky to have a lot of time, so the fear changed with my process. There were times when I was trying one thing, and then I would try a different technique, or focus on this or that, or something else.

And first, there seems to be an almost impossible amount of information, and images and sounds, recordings. Then once I looked at every picture I could find and every book I could read and every piece of footage, or whatever I could get my hands on, I felt the fear that I don’t let it all in me or something. Hold it all together. It felt like there were a million spinning plates I was trying to spin, so it was scary.


But then at a certain point, because I had so much time, there were things that I didn’t have to think about, because I practiced them so many times, maybe physical things, or I just saw something that It started. Feeling like it was becoming a part of me, and I didn’t have to consciously think about things.

The real fear is that you’ll either focus so much on certain external things, like the way he moves or speaks, that you’ll lose the soul. But if you don’t have those complex things, you don’t have a person. And so it was to merge the two. At first it was a little overwhelming, but once I had the time, and then I was able to be there, and then focus on things like, “What is he feeling right now? Where is he right now?” It feels like it’s happening for the first time. So once all that stuff was in, I didn’t really have to think about it on set. Then the fear kind of turned into energy. Goes on. He was also feeling scared when he was on stage, but now the focus can be on how to impress the audience, or what my relationship with the colonel is in that moment. How I feel. Or it becomes about laser focus on what’s happening in the moment.

And then the type of fear is reduced. And then I go home, and then I wake up at four in the morning with more dread, as I think about the next day of filming. [chuckles]. So it’s kind of, it goes away momentarily, but it’s never gone forever, or completely.

Austin Butler

Butler as Presley with his band.

Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

DEADLINE: Can you still remember the initial challenges of getting his voice right?


Butler: Yes, I know I’ve talked about this before, but it happened when I listened to every one of his interviews. There is this great archive of his interviews and telephone recordings. You can trace his voice, and you realize it’s not just a voice. The sound has changed a lot over the years. I knew we were also going to film out of sequence. So, it wasn’t just clicking in that one round or anything, so it was a challenge. Because I knew one day we were going to film in 1974 and the next day we would be in ’56. And so, I had to be as specific as possible about each of these sounds of hers.

The challenge with Elvis, in particular, is the fact that so many people have their own version of his voice, and then there’s this sort of cultural or societal idea of ​​what Elvis sounds like, of that impersonation. So for me, it was to erase the memory of one of those voices that I had ever heard, and then to go up to the man himself and go, “Okay, what’s that voice? in fact Sounds like that?” And then I’d let my curiosity guide me. I was just obsessed with the way he said every single word, and then the whole day, I just had that exact tone and rhythm. used to find out if he said a certain word or something. But thankfully I had a year and a half before I started shooting. The sound was something that often woke me up in the morning and I was terrified that Somewhere I couldn’t catch his voice. And so, the first thing I would do is record it. It was often what woke me up in the morning.


DEADLINE: When you’re working with someone extraordinary, like Baz Luhrmann as your director, what kind of glimpses do you get into his mind when you’re on set together?

Butler: Baz and I have spent a lot of time together now. He is a guy whose art and his life are kind of indistinguishable. He’s a really amazing energy to be around, because he has this beautiful flow between his life and whatever he’s creating. So, whether we were at dinner or we were there on set filming, we were constantly in it together. He’s incredibly focused and detailed, but then loves spontaneity and trusts that if we’ve done all the homework, when we show up, we can throw our original plans aside. are and can now dig up something we never thought of before. . It can be scary at first because when you’ve prepared so much, you want to keep whatever homework you had. But that’s what it’s taught me, is that if you really do all the work, you can show up and change everything and you’ll get something you never expected before. was He is truly amazing. He curated a lot of experiences for me that allowed me to really immerse myself in it, and I’m very grateful to him for that.

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DEADLINE: What will you remember about playing Elvis, what have you taken away from it?

Butler: A couple of things come to my mind, I said before that my relationship with fear has changed. Partly because Elvis was a shy kid and had stage fright, and yet he went out and did what he did. Stepping into his shoes, I felt a tremendous amount of fear, but then was able to see it through his eyes, and then go and do things that I didn’t even think were possible for me. .

I wasn’t even a dancer before; I was not a singer before. There is a kind of freedom that I felt in it. It’s like any time you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you suddenly feel a little freer in the world. Elvis gave me that gift of expanding my sense of comfort in certain areas.

Then on the other side of that, experiencing the end—I get emotional talking about it—experiencing the end of his life, and knowing so deeply about everything that led up to that point. , I had the ability to realize that I was looking back at my life in the past, and changed my priorities and then I almost wanted to do it all over again. Especially when I’m working with being in a similar industry and stuff like that, it’s allowed me to really appreciate the things that I’m experiencing in my life now, even Just being with my family or anything like that. Because Elvis has a lot of loneliness in his life. And there were people who took advantage of it and such a great tragedy happened. So now I think I am more aware of these things. In a way, he is saving me from certain faults and things, so I owe him too.

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