Austin Butler Went to Extraordinary Lengths to Prepare for the Role of Elvis

Leila Kozma - Author

Jun. 22 2022, Published 10:12 a.m. ET

Baz Luhrmann's latest masterpiece surveys Elvis Presley's incredible transformation from a small-town boy into the pop cultural icon he is considered today. Starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks in the lead roles, Elvis chronicles the three-time Grammy Award-winner's steady rise to fame while also capturing his tension-fraught relationship with his talent manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

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Does Austin Butler sing in 'Elvis'?

Austin cut his teeth with roles in Disney hits like Hannah Montana and Nickelodeon shows like Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide and iCarly. He also appeared in popular TV series like The Carrie Diaries and The Shannara Chronicles. Elvis's role marks a new career highlight for the star, who has already worked with sought-after directors like Quentin Tarantino.

Austin Butler as Elvis
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures
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But booking Elvis's role was no small feat. He managed to catch Baz's eyes with an audition tape in which he sang "Unchained Melody." Denzel Washington also called Baz to help Austin seal the deal. After landing the role, Austin received extensive vocal, dialect, and movement coaching. He only sang the early songs in Elvis — which in and of itself posed an incredible challenge.

"I sang every day [while preparing and filming] and would do my singing exercises first thing in the morning," Austin told Entertainment Weekly. "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. But it's not just singing — you're having to find vocal mannerisms. That could be a little tricky."

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To prepare for the role, Austin embarked on an extensive research process, listening to the interviews featuring the King, reading autobiographies, and arranging a meet-up with Elvis's widow, Priscilla. He even played Elvis's Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar during a visit to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. Austin improved his singing, dancing, and guitar skills, and he also compiled a sound archive showcasing how Elvis's accent and self-expressions have changed over his career.

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Austin Butler also plays the guitar in 'Elvis.'

Austin got the chance to showcase his guitar skills in select scenes. However, playing music and playing music on camera are not the same, and as Austin told Variety, he had to combat his shyness — among other problems.

As Baz told Entertainment Weekly, they had to get creative with certain scenes. "The scene where Elvis has to inspire his new big band in Vegas to do this modern version of 'That's Alright (Mama)' — this big concept in his mind," Baz said. "We rehearsed for three months to a playback tape that we had. But when I was shooting, Austin looked at me and was like, 'This just is corny. This is not working. It's fake.'"

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As Baz told the outlet, he came up with an unorthodox solution in the end. He told the musicians to mix up their notes on purpose — leaving Austin with no choice but to step up and hand out instructions. "That's the thing with Elvis," Baz said. "Elvis singing the lines, being the conductor, being the music. Elvis became the music. That's how he created. He was the music."

Elvis arrives in cinemas on Friday, June 24, 2022.

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