Austin Butler, star of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis – out this Friday – only sang in front of his girlfriend before the film and feared he wouldn’t be able to honour the singer
Well his hands may have been shaky and his knees were weak, but Austin Butler shook off his nerves and gave the rendition of his life.
With a curl of the lip and a swivel of the hip, the former Disney child star came of age in a barnstorming performance as Elvis Presley.
The star of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis – out this Friday – looks like the King and sounds like him too.
And that’s all the more impressive given that Austin had only sung in front of one person before – his girlfriend.
Austin, who is dating Cindy Crawford’s supermodel daughter Kaia Gerber, 20, said: “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.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
“I felt an incredible amount of pressure. You feel a responsibility and a desire to do Elvis and everybody who loves him justice.”
In Luhrmann’s unapologetically flamboyant style, Elvis tells the tale of the rock ’n’ roll legend’s stratospheric rise, under controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker – played by Tom Hanks.
Elvis was the most recognisable face in the world and appeared to have it all… 17 UK No1s from the mid-1950s into the 1970s, movie hits, a legion of female fans.
It would all go sour, of course, and he died in 1977 aged just 42.
Parker’s role and the dynamic between him and Elvis is key to the movie, which has critics saying Austin, 30, is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination.
He reveals how he immersed himself in the role and became obsessed with Elvis – even down to his bodily movements and facial expressions.
Austin does the singing for the young Elvis – while technical wizardry adapts his tones for the later years. He says: “I studied everything I could on him. I watched every bit of footage countless times. I read everything I could and talked to as many people as I could.
“It was really about understanding who he was as a man. I put my life on pause for two years just so I could absorb everything.
“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 and movement changed over the years.
“I thought 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 is really important is that his soul comes out.
“When I first started, I put unrealistic expectations on myself.”
Austin travelled to Elvis’s famous home Graceland, in Memphis, to meet his ex-wife Priscilla – played by Olivia DeJonge, 24.
Michael Ochs Archives)
He says: “I was in the living room and Priscilla walks in. She is so ethereal, it took my breath away.
“There was something so profound staring into those eyes that meant so much to Elvis. It gives me chills even now. She said, ‘You have a lot of support,’ then hugged me. That was so huge, getting that blessing. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Austin says the biopic was the experience of a lifetime – albeit a little painful at times. In one scene he was rushed off set bleeding after whacking himself in the face with his guitar.
He says: “During the Burn-ing Love montage, I would throw the guitar backwards for Charlie Hodge to catch. We were changing jumpsuits a lot and I put on one I’d never tried on.
“It had the heaviest cape and, as I brought the guitar forward, the cape came around and caught the guitar. So when I went to throw it, I tilted the guitar and smashed my face.
“He caught it and we kept going but I was seeing stars. We finished the song and Baz came up. He looks so tenderly and goes, ‘I think we need to stop. You’re bleeding.’ I had to have stitches.”
Californian Austin became an actor by chance after he was scouted at a country fair and signed by an agency. His first role was opposite Miley Cyrus in Disney’s Hannah Montana.
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TV and movie parts include a role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But Elvis has sent him into a new league. And he is thrilled to have made Presley’s family proud.
He says: “There has never been a person who I loved more than Elvis.
“I have lived with him now for years so the feeling of doing justice to his legacy, bringing life to this extraordinary man and to making Lisa Marie [Elvis’s daughter], Priscilla and the entire family proud, makes me feel overjoyed. I feel over the moon about that.”
Just wait until you see the reaction of cinema fans, Austin. That’s when you’ll be All Shook Up.