Austin Butler would spend hours walking on the beach and practicing Elvis Presley’s laugh while preparing to play the famous musician in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie.
Speaking at Q&A session at a Cinema Society event put on by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Butler explained the great lengths he went to in order to embody Elvis both physically and emotionally.
“I was losing my mind during COVID. I was in my apartment by myself, and I thought, how do I — how can I try other things? What can I do? I’d already wallpapered my entire apartment, like some sort of maniac, with only pictures of Elvis and it looked like a crime scene or something,” Butler joked.
After a year of studying for the role every day and working with a movement coach, a singing coach, and a dialect coach, Butler suddenly had a lot of time on his hands when production was paused due to the pandemic in 2020.
“Suddenly, it was just me in my room by myself. I would wake up around three or four in the morning, my heart pounding, feeling terror, and I would just sort of go, okay, what’s terrifying me? Oh, it’s this one interview that he did. You know, I can’t quite figure out how he says that word, or what is his phrasing on that? I would usually wake up with a song or an interview or something, or his laugh, going, how do you laugh? How do you find that laugh inside? And then I would just explore that,” Butler says. “And sometimes I’d do it all day, or I’d walk down the beach just laughing as Elvis for hours — like I say, I was losing my mind.”
Butler would also watch Elvis’ 1956 interview on the Hy Gardner Calling! talkshow and practice acting out Elvis’ answers.
“I would find the exact camera angle and then record myself and sit and watch it back and see if I saw an impersonation, or if I saw me trying to do all the external things,” he said. “Because by the time that you’re doing it, those things have to be so in your marrow that you’re not thinking about them, that it’s feeling like it’s happening right now for the very first time. And it’s so tricky. So that was one of the things I did.”
Elvis is now streaming on HBO Max.
Main Image: Elvis star Austin Butler at a Q&A for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Courtesy of SBIFF