Austin Butler as Elvis

Austin Butler Didn't See His Family For "About 3 Years" Because Of Elvis

He *really* got into character.

by Ani Bundel
Warner Bros. Pictures

Austin Butler went from Disney and Nickelodeon cutie to bonafide heartthrob, thanks in large part to his starring turn in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. The film had Butler singing, dancing, and rock-and-rolling his way into movie history as the legendary singer. However, Austin Butler’s quotes about the experience of filming Elvis are a reminder of how intensely hard he had to work to make it look that easy.

Fans learned of Butler’s casting in Elvis was announced in 2019, with the announcement that he would be portraying the legend from his teen years through to the end of his life in the 1970s. Initially, he has he was told by Baz Luhrmann that the movie would be shot in order, starting with the teen years, so that Butler would have time between sections to prepare his body to go from Presley’s lithe form from the mid-1950s when he first got famous, to his later years in Vegas when substance abuse and hard living caught up with him.

Unfortunately, the Hollywood shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 upended that plan. As Butler told Janelle Monáe in their Dec. 10 “Actors On Actors” interview in Variety, they wound up doing everything out of sequence, starting with Elvis’ big comeback performance from 1968. Instead of relying on physical changes, Butler said they worked on “finding subtle ways that you can age,” instead mentioning that he focused on how Elvis experienced “pain in his knees, in his back,” and he “felt that completely.”

As for that performance, Butler said he “really had the terror” of a moment that feels like a make-or-break one, especially since there would be dubbing to make his voice sound like the older Elvis. (Butler did all the vocals for the younger version of Elvis himself.) “My career feels like it’s on the line in this moment,” he said. But, like his knees and back, that emotion was true to his character. “At that point in Elvis’ life, his career was on the line, and he had terror.”

That was only part of what Butler dealt with in filming the production. Since the movie was made in Australia, travel restrictions meant he couldn’t come back to the U.S. without massive delays in filming. “During “Elvis,” I didn’t see my family for about three years,” Butler told Monáe.

“I was prepping with Baz, and then I went to Australia. I had months where I wouldn’t talk to anybody,” Butler said. “And when I did, the only thing I was ever thinking about was Elvis. I was speaking in his voice the whole time.”

Elvis is streaming on HBO Max.