We’ve barely reached the end of January, and 2023 has already been a pretty successful year for Austin Butler.
He kicked things off with a Golden Globe win for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the singer, and this week, the actor managed to one-up himself by bagging a coveted Oscar nomination for the part.
And while everyone is thrilled for Austin, there are plenty of fans online who are keen to emphasize that this may not have happened without the encouragement of one particularly special person — Austin’s ex, Vanessa Hudgens.
Austin and Vanessa started dating in 2011 after meeting on the set of High School Musical several years prior. They stayed together for nearly a decade, solidifying their status as a beloved power couple in that time.
For some context, Austin was cast as Elvis in July 2019 while he and Vanessa were still together.
A month later, Vanessa celebrated her boyfriend’s major casting while guest hosting Live With Kelly and Ryan, revealing that she had the idea for him to play the iconic singer even before they knew Luhrmann’s biopic was in the works.
“It's so crazy because last December, we were driving along and we were listening to Christmas music, and then an Elvis Presley Christmas song came on,” she recalled.
“He had just dyed his hair dark — he’s a natural blonde — and I was looking at him and he was singing along and I was like, ‘Babe, you need to play Elvis,’” she went on. “‘I don’t know how, but I’m serious. You need to play him.’”
She continued: “Then in January, he was sitting at the piano — he’s a musician — and he’s playing and he’s singing and I’m like, I don’t know how, but you need to figure out how you can play Elvis. Like, I don’t know how we get rights or what we do, but you need to play him.”
As we now know, Austin and Vanessa wound up calling it quits just five months later in January 2020 — around the time that Elvis was set to begin shooting in Australia — with reports citing “a matter of distance” and differing schedules as the reason for the split.
So, fast forward three years, and Austin reflected on how he wound up landing the highly coveted role, recalling that an unnamed “friend” of his actually had the idea — you guessed it — while they were driving in the car listening to Christmas music.
“So I was looking at Christmas lights, and there was an Elvis Christmas song on the radio,” Austin told the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month. “I was with a friend of mine and I was singing along, and my friend kind of looked over at me and goes, ‘You gotta play Elvis.’”
He continued: “A couple of weeks later, I was playing the piano. I never really sang for any of my friends or anything. That same friend was there and I was playing the piano. She said, ‘I’m serious. You gotta figure out how you can get the rights to a script.’”
Of course, it didn’t take long for fans to connect the dots and realize that Austin’s version of events directly matched up with the same story Vanessa told back in 2019, leading many to wonder why he’d chosen to leave her out of the picture.
As the clip picked up traction online, fans didn’t hold back in expressing their outrage that Austin failed to give credit to Vanessa, with some branding the lack of acknowledgment as plain “disrespectful” given how long they were together.
“If I dated the same man for NINE YEARS of my adult life and then he called me ‘a friend’ on live TV after I predicted the role that made his career…” someone tweeted in response.
Others came to Austin’s defense, however, and argued that it was actually quite gracious of him to refer to Vanessa as a friend, particularly given that they’re now both dating other people.
And now, after weeks of criticism, Austin is finally giving Vanessa her due.
Celebrating his Oscar nomination during an interview with the LA Times on Tuesday, Austin was asked by reporter Mark Olsen if he might be able to “clear up” the confusion about who exactly inspired him to take on the role.
“You’ve talked about a moment even before you had the role, it was Christmastime, and an Elvis song came on and you were with a friend and you were singing along,” the reporter began.
Before he could finish, Austin was quick to interject and set the record straight. “I was with my partner at the time,” he said.
Asked to clarify if it was Vanessa who he was referring to, Austin finally credited her for her involvement in the casting.
“That’s right,” he said. “We’d been together for so long and she had this sort of clairvoyant moment and so I really, I owe her a lot for believing in me.”
While all this has been going on, Vanessa has remained pretty quiet about her ex’s busy career, and so it seems unlikely that she’ll publicly react to his nod.
That said, she did take the time last week to poke a little fun — or shade, you decide — at Austin’s lingering Elvis accent, which has been at the center of discussions for several months now.
One Instagram user shared a meme about Austin’s mystifying Southern drawl, joking that he went to “the Lady Gaga school of Oscar campaign acting,” prompting Vanessa to comment: “Crying.”
And with that, justice is restored, and I think the Austin/Vanessa/Elvis discourse might finally have come to a close. See you at the Oscars!