In these times when the brilliance of a newly minted star has the minutes counted before the next one arrives with the same status as a phenomenon, the 12-minute ovation that Austin Butler received for recreating the immortal Elvis Presley at the last Festival of Cannes, should mean something, although it should not necessarily extend the life as such.
To this Southern Californian, a recent thirtysomething, tall and thin as a reed, with a perfect perch, blue-green eyes, a frank smile and slightly bulging cheeks that take him away from the always annoying perfection, Baz Luhrmann, the director of films in which size does that matters and as visually overwhelming as Moulin Rouge either The Great Gatsby He has taken it out of the drawer of those who can, who knows, maybe… to put it in the one of these they really are, along with Miles Teller or Timothy Chalamet, to give a couple of examples.
Denzel (Washington) told Luhrmann that I was the only actor he knew who was trying to perfect his character 24 hours a day.”
In a world in which there are more than 400,000 imitators of the King of Rock, in its different stadiums, who participate in competitions, make a pilgrimage to Graceland, where he is buried, and even officiate at weddings, Butler is the perfect one and gives soups with a sling to all of them. Anyone who has seen it in action knows. That he has cost him his own, apparently, is also true.
“I don’t know to what extent I’m one of those people who gives a lot of thought to things, he explains, but after auditioning for the role for five months, my head was already spinning. On the one hand, the director and I got along very well, but the studio had the final decision and it could all have been in vain, so I tried to familiarize myself with the ‘the role is yours’ version and the ‘sorry , maybe next time’. And I worked to be able to accept that refusal without excessive damage. But if they accepted me, I knew that I would have a lot of work ahead of me and I was clear that I was capable of doing it. In the end, once it was achieved, I was overcome by a wave of joy, gratitude and enthusiasm. I think I still feel it.”
Luhrmann has taken four years to finish off his last great show, with a pandemic in between, and his protagonist has been trained as if he had to face a legion of monstrosities in an apocalyptic film, but in a different way.
Bringing Elvis’ heart and soul to life is a huge responsibility. He is like a god”
Learning to sing and move with Elvis is no easy task. Many tried and none succeeded. “Denzel (Washington) who I worked with in the theater, unbeknownst to me, he talked to Luhrmann and told him that he was the only actor he knew who was trying to perfect his character 24 hours a day. And that recommendation was final, I think. I don’t see myself as obsessed with perfection. In any case, transmitting and bringing to life the heart and soul of Elvis is a huge responsibility. He is an icon; his image is everywhere. He is like he is super human, like a god. None of these concepts are very accessible to an actor, nor do they combine all the complexity and nuances of a human being, which is what we performers do: to capture and transmit them. With a character like that, you can lose track of who you really are. And that’s what happened to me. When it was over, I didn’t know who it was.”
learning and fun
From the youth series to the support of Priscilla
Like almost all newcomers, Austin Butler was not spared the ordeal of youth television series, of more or less substance: from Hanna Montana a Wizards of Waverly Place, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Icarly either Ruby and the Rockits, in which he came to sing his own compositions. He even had a good role in The Carrie Diaries which showed the protagonist of sex in new york in his high school years… “I got sick of that scene where I walked through the door and all the girls were just gawking at me. Well, I wanted to do other things, but I needed that learning to be able to do it”.
And besides, you had to make ends meet. Star the futuristic The Shannara Chronicles and the great reviews The Iceman Cometh, which premiered on the New York stage with his friend Denzel, gave him the adult alternative. After the experience of the biopic of the King of Rock, to which an emotional Priscilla Presley has given all her support “and who moved me when she told me that she believed that she had done justice to the figure of her husband”, she is already preparing her stellar participation in the second part of dunes. “My goal, as Quentin Tarantino said one night as we were relaxing from filming at a pancake stand, is for everyone to have such a good time on a film set that the next job seems like crap. As an idea, it has always seemed very interesting to me”, he comments with a laugh.
And he ended up in the hospital, exhausted and attacked by a strange virus that kept him in bed for a week. “The most curious thing is that I thought that I had purged everything with that process, but it was not like that. You have to keep in mind that the research was exhaustive looking at all the documentaries and performances that I could find, their recordings and interviews from the 50s to the 70s, I read all the books that I could get my hands on, and I really began to find these keys to their humanity that were similar to mine.”
Both Elvis and Butler lost their mothers at age 23 “and that fact gave me goosebumps. Both were wonderful and were essential for our personal and sentimental development. Elvis was also an intensely spiritual person and I think I feel some of that in myself, but in my own way. I have my world, they tell me that I am a very sensitive person… What I do know is that I am reflective; sometimes maybe too much, although I don’t express it constantly because I often turn down the volume on those thoughts if I think they might get in the way.”
According to the young actor, conveying the humanity of the idol was the hard part. Or at least the most difficult. Next to him, the physical, which is so spectacular in the eyes of the public, has no color, “because it is the result of training. Well, you have to be very specific in those moments in a concert or in a television program, of which the public has reference and for which you look at photographic material of similar situations and in the end you end up interweaving reality, being very careful not to lose the spontaneity and the feeling that everything is happening for the first time before the eyes of the viewer. The characteristic movements must be prepared at the time of filming so that you can forget what you learned and make it alive. I mean, you work and work and work and then you release it.”
Knowing that Elvis and I lost our mothers at the age of 23 gave me goosebumps.”
Butler is considered a fashion icon, those who have followed his career for years, as a youth idol, think so, but without a doubt his baptism of fire has been received on the different red carpets through which he has walked , on a few occasions with his girlfriend, the model Kaia Gerber, daughter of Cindy Crawford. He did it with an Alexander McQueen tuxedo, in London, or with something more informal with the necessary French touch, to present the film at a press conference in Cannes.
“I’m not saying that the habit makes the monk, but I think that your appearance determines your attitude,” he stresses. “To play Elvis that he has such a personal, defined image; perhaps eccentric, was fundamental. For the ’50s scenes I loved the lace-up shirts and bolero jackets that have an amazing cut. In the 60s, leather, which makes you feel great when you wear it and is completely timeless, and already in the 70s, those colored jumpsuits that make you look like some kind of superhero…”
What is clear is that the actor is aware of the giant step his career has taken, since there is already talk of him as a future Oscar candidate. “And I think of myself when I was doing all those teenage series from the beginning of my career and I don’t believe what is happening to me. I didn’t plan to be an actor”, he commented. “I was accompanying a relative who wanted to appear at a casting and there I noticed that he was interested. Then a talent scout at the county fair wanted to book me… It was a difficult time for me where I had no passion for anything that involved other people. I was a loner, I didn’t like sports, I didn’t do things with other kids, I learned to play the piano and the guitar as a self-taught person”.
I didn’t think about being an actor. I accompanied a relative to a casting and there I noticed that he was interested (…) ”
In the end, he decided to train as an actor and with the support of his parents, he dropped out of school at age 15 to pursue it full time. “Although I continued to take classes at home and write a lot because I was afraid of not being able to communicate. The fact is that little by little I was entering this wonderful world. I remember in those days I was obsessed with Tarantino; I spent the day reading the script of pulp fiction. Working with him was my dream.”
And he got it. Their first experience together was in Once upon a time in Hollywood, in which he played Tex Watson, Charles Manson’s lieutenant, whom Brad Pitt’s character sends to the other neighborhood. “I do have my idols; actors whom I have always admired and I have been lucky enough to be able to work with them, even though I am practically a newcomer. In Tarantino’s I coincided with Leo Di Caprio: I’ve always wanted to be like him and make films as important as his. I love Denzel and Tom Hanks – he plays Elvis’s somewhat shady manager in the film, who is nicknamed Colonel – and I know that his legacy goes far beyond the purely cinematographic; they are a very important part of our lives,” he says.
I have always wanted to be like DiCaprio and I adore Hanks and Denzel, they are an important part of our lives.
Of them, she says, “Tom is a master of the craft, plus he’s warm, welcoming, kind, funny, generous, and humble, and he made everyone on set feel at home. Denzel just kind of sponsored me. When you have idols like these, you want to become their best friend, but I tried not to even though I was dying to. He noticed and one quiet afternoon he sat next to me and we chatted for a long time. For any actor he is a well of wisdom, but, as a person, I admire his constant gratitude for all the good things that life has given him. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned from him, because he will serve me forever.”