‘Before Elvis I was so shy I only sang for my girlfriend’
Rising Hollywood star Austin Butler reveals how he managed to overcome self-doubt to fill the iconic blue suede shoes of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic. By Deirdre Reynolds
ALL Shook Up may be the obvious song title to reach for to convey how Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis Presley is leaving fans. But that’s the only thing cliché about a big screen resurrection that had even the late King of Rock and Roll’s wife Priscilla convinced from the opening credits.
The 30 year-old Californian is the latest in a long line of brave actors to step into the blue suede shoes of the musical icon in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis.
Yet channelling the most popular artist of all time was nothing compared to his nerves at coming face-to-face with Presley’s queen at the couple’s former home of Graceland in Memphis, Austin admits.
“I was waiting in the living room and eventually Priscilla walks in. She is so ethereal, it took my breath away. There was something so profound about staring into those eyes that meant so much to Elvis. It gives me chills even now. She said, ‘You have a lot of support,’ and then she hugged me,” he recounts.
“That was so huge for me, getting that blessing. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Best known for playing Manson Family murderer Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the rising star reportedly beat Miles Teller and Harry Styles to the coveted part in the summer rock-buster, charting Presley’s relationship with his controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker — an against-type Tom Hanks.
Despite winning rave reviews for his “star-making turn”, Austin confesses he felt “an incredible amount of pressure” at taking on the gyrating legend at first.
“You feel a responsibility and a desire to do him justice and everybody who loves him justice,” concedes the leading man, who’s had the support of model girlfriend Kaia Gerber on the red carpet.
“Before this I was so shy. I would never sing in front of anybody. I would maybe sing in front of my girlfriend but that was it. Then, sure enough, Baz threw me in at the deep end right from the beginning.”
Although he was only born in 1991, 14 years after Elvis was found dead at home aged 42, Austin explains how he still felt connected to the singer, who’s also been portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer on film and TV.
“I don’t really remember a moment in my life where Elvis wasn’t a part of it,” he tells. “I remember my grandmother watching his films when I was a kid. Blue Suede Shoes — I don’t even remember the first time that I heard it but that’s the thing about Elvis. He has become the wallpaper of society. He is such a superhuman figure.
“The tricky thing was finding a way to strip all of that away and find the human nature of him,” continues the former teen heartthob from Zoey 101 and The Carrie Diaries. “But that process was also a joy.”
Bingeing “every bit of footage countless times” in preparation for the role, the method actor has apparently even struggled to stop talking like Elvis more than a year after the movie wrapped.
“I basically put my life on pause for two years just to I could absorb everything that I possibly could,” says Austin. “I went down the rabbit hole of obsession and broke down his life into periods of time where I could hear the differences in how his voice changed and his movement changed over the years.
“The biggest challenge came when I first started and I put unrealistic expectations on myself. I thought that if I worked hard enough I could make my face identical to Elvis’s and that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
“I realised at a certain point, that’s like going to the wax museum and what’s really important is that his soul comes out.”
But recreating Elvis the Pelvis’ most memorable live performances wasn’t without its risks, as the actor describes “seeing stars” of a different kind following a run-in with one of star’s iconic jumpsuit capes during the Burning Love montage. “When I went to throw it I tilted the guitar and smashed my face.We finished the rest of the song and I see Baz come up. He looks at me so tenderly and goes, ‘I think we need to stop. You’re bleeding.’ I had to have stitches!”
Still, if he wasn’t a superfan before, he is now, and it seems the feeling is mutual for the Presley family.
“There has never been a person who I have never met, who I have loved more than Elvis,” says Austin.
“I have lived with him now for three years so the feeling of doing justice to his legacy, bringing life to this extraordinary man and to making [daughter] Lisa Marie, Priscilla and [granddaughter] Riley and the entire family proud, just makes me feel overjoyed. I feel over the moon about that.”
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