Last month, the much-anticipated Elvis Presley biopic, Elvis, was finally released after being dramatically delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Austin Butler has won high praise for his performance in the titular role.
Following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Elvis received a 12-minute standing ovation, and there was immediate Oscar buzz surrounding its lead.
In fact, Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, said that she would “eat [her] own foot” if Austin doesn’t receive an Academy Award for his portrayal of her famous father, which she said was “FINALLY done accurately and respectfully.”
But the performance of a lifetime didn’t come completely naturally to Austin, and he has been open about how much of himself he gave away while preparing for the role.
In fact, after movie production shut down in director Baz Lurhmann’s home country of Australia in March 2020, Austin refused the invitation to be flown back to Los Angeles and instead spent the next six months fully immersing himself in all things Elvis.
Living alone in a foreign country during the COVID-19 lockdown, Austin told British GQ that he turned his apartment into what was effectively a “detective scene” as he dug as deeply as possible into the real-life person that he was portraying.
Austin said that letting himself “marinate” paved the way for a “very different” movie as he admitted that he was “grateful” for the extra time that the lockdown afforded him.
And Austin ended up being so dedicated to doing the role justice that he ultimately ended up losing touch with his own identity by the time filming wrapped, he said.
The day after the project ended in March 2021, Austin was rushed to hospital as his body began “shutting down.”
“You can lose touch with who you actually are. And I definitely had that when I finished Elvis — not knowing who I was,” he said to GQ. “The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to hospital.”
“My body just started shutting down the day after I finished Elvis,” Austin said.
The star was bedridden for a week after he was diagnosed with a virus that simulates appendicitis. Despite this, Austin flew to London the moment that he recovered so that he could begin work on his next project, Masters of Air.
And in a new interview, Austin has opened up some more about how grueling the Elvis experience was for him as he recalled going home “in tears” after Baz and a bunch of execs heckled and humiliated him on his first day in the recording studio.
Austin believes that they did this so that he would know how Elvis felt when he was heckled by the audience the first time that he went onstage, but that didn’t stop it from having a deep impact on him.
“When I was on my first day in the recording studio, Baz wanted me to get as close to performing as possible,” Austin told VMAN for its fall/winter 2022 issue. “He had all the executives and everybody from RCA, who were back in the offices, he brought them into the recording studio and he goes: ‘I want you all to sit facing Austin’ and he told them to heckle me.”
“So then they were making fun of me and stuff while I was singing,” he added.
Defending what happened, Austin went on: “When we were filming this moment when Elvis first got on stage and he’s getting heckled by the audience, I knew what that felt like. I went home in tears that night. I really did.”
And Baz’s reputation of acting a little out of left field when directing movies preceded him — Austin also revealed that none other than Leonardo DiCaprio had warned him about the filmmaker’s approach after he landed the role.
Leonardo famously worked with Baz when he starred as Romeo in his 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, and again in 2013 for The Great Gatsby.
“I had spoken to Leo before and he said: ‘Baz is gonna push you in ways you didn’t know somebody could,’” Austin said. “‘He’s gonna push you off balance and keep you off balance.’”
But thankfully, Austin was able to overcome the intense working conditions, and Baz has been nothing but full of praise for him ever since.
Speaking on the Fitzy and Wippa podcast, Baz said that Austin was “almost born to play” the role. “He just happened, like, two years nonstop living and breathing as Elvis," Baz said. "He’s now going through a…deprogramming thing because he’s been a long time since he’s known who he was."
In fact, Baz previously admitted that Austin was so devoted to embodying Elvis that he was sometimes unable to differentiate between when his lead actor was in character and when he was being himself.
“I asked one of my assistants [about Butler’s accent], and the guy said, ‘Well, he’s not Southern. He’s from Anaheim [California],’” Baz told GQ. “I don’t think, until recently, I actually came to understand how Austin actually sounded.”
The iconic Elvis voice has famously lingered, and Austin has been forced to defend the fact that he still occasionally speaks with a Southern drawl in interviews.
“It’s funny because certain situations trigger it, I think," he told Yahoo! Lifestyle of his accent. "You know, for one, being surrounded by his name everywhere and then two, it becomes, I think, as well something where, I mean, that was the voice that I spoke in for two years."
"It is so habitual at the end, you get done and you kind of don’t remember what your natural voice is,” he added.
In a separate interview with Elle Australia, Austin said: "You spend so much time obsessing about one thing, and it really is like muscular habits, your mouth can change. It's pretty amazing."
And I think it’s fair to say that a slight change in accent is a small price to pay for a performance this impressive.