Austin Butler becomes the King of Rock 'n' Roll in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis
You know Elvis Presley. Now, get to know the actor, Austin Butler, who has put on the blue suede shoes to play the late music legend.
Written and directed by Luhrmann, Elvis is a musical biopic follows King of Rock 'n' Roll's rise to fame and his complicated relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).
A former teen star whose career began in TV series such as Hannah Montana and The Carrie Diaries, Butler graduated to the big screen with bit parts in The Dead Don't Die and Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood.
The 30-year-old has received much praise, nailing the King's hip-swivelling moves and the verbal cadence.
Here, Butler talks about his road to playing the icon and receiving the thumbs-up from Presley's former wife Priscilla.
Elvis opens here on June 23.
How did you feel when Luhrmann told you that you had won the role of Elvis?
Austin Butler: It was incredible. Baz and I had already been collaborating from about February to July before I got the part. By the time I did the screen test, we'd already been working together for four or five months.
And so when Baz finally told me I've got the part, I had this surge of joy, gratitude, and excitement. I immediately called the dialect coach and my movement coach, and I just continued doing research.
How do you find your way into a man who has been immortalised in pop culture for decades?
That was the big challenge from the get-go because, as you say, Elvis has been immortalised in that way... he has a superhuman, god-like status.
And so, for me, it was how do you find that? It began with endless research and watching every documentary that I could find on YouTube. I listened to every interview from the '50s to the '70s and read every book. I started to find these keys to his humanity. I then try to find the things in myself that were remarkably similar. It was such a joy to get to explore that.
Many actors say that the costumes, hair and make-up help them find the character. How did those elements help you further refine your work?
Catherine Martin is brilliant and one of the greatest costume designers we've ever had. Her attention to detail is unmatched. It was a privilege to work with her, and reap the benefits of her work ethic and brilliant mind.
Did you have a favourite costume?
I don't have just one favourite… it depends on my mood.
In the '50s scenes, certain things stand out in my mind - I've never worn so many laced shirts! I loved those. I also loved the amazing cut of those bolero jackets. There's that one where it's the all-blue suit in the '50s with the blue lace shirt. And then in the '60s, one of the most empowering outfits to wear is the leather suit for the 1968 Special. It just feels great when you're wearing that.
And then the jumpsuits...you feel like a superhero. It's hard for me to choose just one.
What was it like to bring Elvis' iconic performances to life?
I think it was very important to approach them with an incredible amount of specificity. Baz called them the trainspotting moments, which are these moments that people can watch and compare to something that Elvis actually did, so you want it to be as specific to what he did as possible. For instance the scene where I'm performing at Russwood singing Trouble. We may not have footage of Elvis doing it, but you want it to be as truthful to Elvis and as authentic as possible.
For moments when we didn't have actual footage, I would look at an endless amount of images or other moments where he was moving and essentially take them in.
There's a great photo of him from Vancouver when he was rolling around on the stage with a microphone, so we took that moment for a portion of the song. You take a different moment for a different scene, and you end up compiling or weaving this performance together that feels almost like a trainspotting moment, even though we don't have the actual footage.
You want to get as specific as possible, but then you run the risk of losing spontaneity and losing the feeling of it happening for the first time right now in front of our eyes. That became the challenge, making it as specific as possible but then anew.
Priscilla Presley loved the film. How does that feel?
It made my heart soar because ultimately, that's the review that matters to me. If Elvis' family is happy, if Priscilla, who knew him arguably better than anybody else, feels positive about it and said kind things, that's all I can hope for. I just feel such a relief, because I want to make her proud, and I want to make his family proud. I want to do them justice and do him justice. And that goes for everybody who loves him around the world; I want all of them to feel his essence and feel like we did him justice.