Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic might not seem like a major box office hit. The film, practically a musical, is a period piece chronicling the singer’s rise to fame, from his dust bowl childhood to his 1970s decline. Musicals haven’t been doing well at the box office; West Side Story, another period piece musical, resoundingly flopped. But Luhrmann’s film is holding its own thanks to its star, Austin Butler. However, viewers are curious if Austin Butler is doing his own singing in Elvis or if he’s lip-syncing to the King.
It’s pretty standard for actors to lip-sync to tracks sung by others in movies. Zac Efron, for example, didn’t sing a note in the original High School Musical films. Rebecca Ferguson didn’t sing in The Greatest Showman. Moreover, actors in biopics who aren’t vocalists regularly lip-sync to tracks sung by the artist they’re supposed to be. Yaya DeCosta didn’t sing in the Whitney Houston biopic; Rami Malek’s voice was blended with the original Freddie Mercury tracks in Bohemian Rhapsody to give a more natural feel, but he still lip-synced along with the mixture.
But Baz Luhrmann is famous for wanting his actors to sing their own performances. His 2001 hit, Moulin Rouge!, was seen as daring for making both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman sing in the film and having them on the soundtrack. So perhaps it’s not that surprising that Austin Butler does sing in Elvis.
To master Elvis’ voice, Butler went on a research binge on YouTube. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he said, “There are so many people out there who are super-fans, who compile these websites that have the most amazing resources.” As for singing, as the video above shows, Butler did all the Young Elvis songs himself. “I knew that the singing aspect of [the role] was going to be something I really wanted to give everything I had to, “ he said. “I sang every day... It is really like a muscle. Through filming, I started noticing notes that I couldn’t hit in the beginning; suddenly, now I could hit those notes. I was widening my range.”
However, Elvis’ later songs were more of a challenge, as the singer’s voice changed due to hard living and pill-popping. For those, Luhrmann borrowed the Bohemian Rhapsody trick of blending Butler’s vocals with actual Elvis performances.
Elvis is currently playing in theaters and is expected to stream on HBO Max later in 2022.