“When I saw his casting test, it was as if something spiritual was happening, it was the most unusual thing I had to experience as a director,” Baz Luhrmann told the newspaper. The nation Argentina on the first moment he saw Austin Butler dressed as Elvis Presley for his biopic, which hits commercial theaters on Thursday.
It was more than clear that the 30-year-old Californian actor wanted the role and that this desire did not have to go unnoticed by the filmmaker, who does not tire of highlighting Butler’s “work ethic”, one that can be traced back to the beginning of his career.
At the age of 13, she met an agent who suggested she take acting classes, and seeing how much she enjoyed it, she suggested to her parents that she could study from home so that she could have more flexible hours to audition. He had family support from the beginning and, in 2005, Butler was already one of Nickelodeon’s young stars thanks to his role as Lionel Scranton in the series Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guidewhere he became good friends with his colleague Lindsey Shaw, who introduced him to his manager, Pat Cutler, the man who helped him cement his status as a popular figure in the teen world, but with formal preparation as a flag.
Thus, came roles in Hannah Montana of Disney, in icarly Y Zoey 101. In his interventions, Butler absorbed everything that his companions had to teach him and took it with him to the world of cinema, where he landed in an unfailing way.
In 2011, the actor starred alongside Ashley Tishdale in the spin-off of High School Musical, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventureand just a few years later he was working under directors like Kevin Smith (Yoga Hosers), Jim Jamursch (The Dead Don’t Die), and Quentin Tarantino in Once upon a time… in Hollywood in the role of Tex Watson.
Butler is restless by nature and was able to demonstrate his singing ability in his collaborations with Disney and Nickelodeon, being part of the prequel to Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries, and also challenge yourself in the theatrical scene. The actor integrated the works Death of the Author at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill on Broadway in 2018, where he fulfilled the dream of working alongside one of his idols: Denzel Washington.
Butler’s impression on the actor-director was so indelible that when he learned that Luhrmann was looking for his Elvis, he contacted him to pay particular attention to the young man. “I had never talked to Denzel and one day he calls me on the phone with total seriousness and mentions the commitment with which he saw Austin work and that stayed with me,” says the director, who later received a video of Butler singing “Unchained Melody” and felt he had to add him to the shortlist of candidates for a highly coveted role.
“His video was completely unlike anything I had ever seen,” Luhrmann remarks. “He was a young man playing the piano, but he was looking up with tears in his eyes, very moved. It took me a month to realize that his real accent wasn’t southern, and that he was from California, because of how much he had prepared. He is also a very spiritual person ». This point was key to the decision made by Luhrmann and team to give him the role. Elvis himself, through piano and gospel, took refuge in a world that no one could access, one full of introspective moments that the actor who plays him also experiences.
“I didn’t want to imitate Elvis, I wanted to know his soul and show it,” Butler tells The nation via Zoom, in an interview in which he admits his nerves about giving the world his version of the legend. “Do you see yourself arriving at the Oscar?” he is asked. After sketching a shy smile, Austin, whose future projects are the sequel to dunes and the Apple TV+ miniseries Masters of the Air (produced by Tom Hanks, his partner in Elvis), assures that he does not want to give it too much importance. «On the one hand, I like to receive the approval of my peers; on the other, I don’t like to do something to win prizes, it’s not the goal of art. Also, it doesn’t feel good to say that one thing is superior to another,” explains the young actor.
As for his preparation for Elvis, Butler always knew how to approach the role he so desperately wanted to get. “I started watching every video I could and what struck me was how he changed physically throughout his life, but also on stage. I wanted to dig deeper and find out why he moved that way and so I started to find all his influences and study them. I did it with the voice too, as well as with the physical, “says the actor.
-The idea was to feel what I was interpreting…
-Exactly, I wanted to get into his head and think about what he was experiencing while he was moving like that, but not to recreate it because the idea was that everything felt alive and spontaneous. The physical side made the music flow through my body. That way I could feel what it’s really like to be moved by his voice, and Baz gave me the freedom to improvise and change things on stage.
-What did you find in your personal search for Elvis?
-Many things, but what struck me the most was realizing how generous he was, that was one of the things I was not familiar with. Elvis was very generous, he would give cars to strangers and if someone told him ‘I like your necklace’, he would take it off and give it to them. And on the other hand there was his humor, he had a great sense of humor, and the most contagious laugh in the world, I love his laugh, how it made him more human.
-You mentioned that Baz let you improvise, how was the experience of working with him?
-He is such an unconventional director… I have a lot of affection for Baz. As a conductor he is the closest thing to a jazz musician you can get, he is amazing at improvising, like with jazz, he knows the scales and he knows about music theory more than a musician.
-One could think that he has everything perfectly calculated when he films…
-Yes, but at the same time it lets you let go to see what comes up in the moment, and it makes it so that, at the end of the day, everything can come together perfectly. Baz prepares a lot, and for Elvis he did a very exhausting investigation, but then he comes on set and is spontaneous, he follows you in what you propose, he takes inspiration from different things. His creative process is wonderful, it’s something poetic to see.
Delving into his eagerness to play Elvis, Butler makes no secret of how badly he wanted to command this film. “From the moment I found out that Baz was doing this movie, I went into it like I’d been given the part,” he reveals. “I did a lot of research and hired a singing coach, a movement coach [Polly Bennett] and a dialect coach. We explored and collaborated before I got the job, it was very organic,” he notes.
Then, when it came time to work with Luhrmann, Butler was free to make numerous suggestions. «With Baz creativity is generated together. In this case, each one investigated things on their own and then we would get together to see what to do in a certain scene. There was a lot of practice, I sang a lot before I got the role so at times I lost my voice. They were intense months.
-We all have memories of Elvis music playing somewhere, like in the family home. Did the same thing happen to you?
-Yes, my experience with Elvis is related to my grandmother. I remember visiting her and seeing her play her music or one of her movies. That was the way I got to know him. So right now, when I talk to the new generations and they can’t even name an Elvis song, it breaks my heart in a way.
-How nervous were you before the premiere?
-Very… (laughs). I tend to be a perfectionist and self-critical when I see anything I do, I hope I have done the film justice, first of all for his family. priscilla [Presley, esposa del artista de 1967 a 1973] He said very nice and deep things about my work that made me cry. On the other hand, there are his fans, and I am very interested in what they have to say, I hope they like it and that they feel that my work lives up to what Elvis was.