The Elvis movie had big names in mind for Presley until Austin Butler’s audition tape revealed the sad link that makes him perfect for the role.
In Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, it was Austin Butler’s Elvis audition that won the actor the title role. This was all thanks to a choice Butler made during the audition process that made him the perfect casting choice. The movie exhibits Luhrmann’s trademark style with a beautiful, dream-like quality, but it is Butler’s authenticity—his fragility—that is Elvis’s most captivating element. For that, there is good reason: Elvis’ Austin Butler (who is known for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) has a sad connection with Elvis Presley that made him tragically perfect for the role of a lifetime and won him a role in the movie.
The Elvis movie follows Presley’s life from childhood, showing him as a young boy in Memphis in the 1940s. Mesmerized by the gospel music he discovered at the local Black church, Presley’s musical inspirations drew largely on the style along with his love for blues and rock. Presley was discovered in the early 1950s after his soon-to-be manager, Colonel Tom Parker, heard a recording Presley made for his mother. Luhrmann’s Elvis movie closely follows the relationship between Elvis and the Colonel, from the 1950s until the later years of Presley’s career, which ended with his death in 1977. It is Presley’s relationship with his mother, however, that led to Butler’s casting as one of music’s biggest icons.
Austin Butler Connected With Elvis Losing His Mother
Like Presley, Butler was extremely close to his mother, who he claims gave up her own career in support of his. Tragically, both Presley and Butler lost their mothers at the age of 23, a fact that haunted Butler as he dove further into Presley’s history during the audition process with Luhrmann. The connection was so powerful that, when it came time for Austin Butler’s Elvis audition, he decided against performing one of Presley’s classics. Instead, he sang a song for his mother. The tape stunned acclaimed director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and won Butler the role.
The song Butler sang was Unchained Melody (which he sings in the Elvis movie as well); however, Butler says (via Vogue) that, unlike all the times he had played it before, this time he wasn’t singing as though serenading a lover but sang the song as though he were singing it to his late mother. Sitting at his piano in nothing but his bathrobe, Butler says he had woken from a nightmare about his mother’s death and thought that Presley had likely done the same many times. “I wasn’t trying to look and sound like Elvis,” Butler says, “I wasn’t trying to do anything but take that emotion and pour it into the song.”
Luhrmann watched Austin Butler’s Elvis audition and, despite previously considering bigger stars for the role, the director found the perfect star for his Elvis biopic. “What I heard vocally, and more importantly, what I saw emotionally, was something that simply couldn’t be ignored,” Luhrmann said. From the moment he met Elvis’ Austin Butler, “he was carrying something of Elvis with him.” And while Luhrmann points out that Butler has both “a hint of the swagger” and “a touch of the sound,” it is Butler’s tragic loss of his mother and enduring love for her that allowed his unique understanding and haunting portrayal of the legendary Elvis Presley.
Oscar Nominations Prove Austin Butler Was The Right Actor To Play Elvis
Austin Butler’s Elvis audition won him the role and his performance as the King of Rock and Roll won him tremendous awards buzz. Elvis picked up a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, while Butler picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. This follows Butler also winning the same award at the Golden Globes, pulling an upset win over Brendan Fraser. It also spoke volumes that the 31-year-old actor earned an Oscar nomination and his more established co-star Tom Hanks did not.
The movie nabbed a total of seven Oscar nominations, although the remaining five were either technical or for the production values of the movie. On top of Best Picture and Best Actor, Elvis also picked up nominations for Best Sound, Best Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Film Editing, and Cinematography. This was an improvement over the Golden Globes three nominations (Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director), where Butler was the only winner.
Next: Every Song In Elvis (& Who Sings What)