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‘I went home in tears’: Elvis Star Austin Butler Reveals Baz Luhrmann Humiliated Him For the Role, Says Leo DiCaprio Had Warned Him Earlier

The Baz Luhrmann-directed Austin Butler film, Elvis, had been a calculated effort that dealt a retrospective look into the life and career of the rock ‘n roll star after whom the movie has been named eponymously. Elvis Presley was not a man to whom fandom came easily, and when it did, it stuck like glitter on a carpet that forced itself to remain even with the toxic influence of a hyper-zealous tour manager, overexertion coupled with underpaid hours, and lack of creative outlets.

Austin Butler for the VMAN '22 issue
Austin Butler for the VMAN ’22 issue

Also read: Elvis Review: A Hip Shakin’ Good Time

Presley’s life, and especially his exponential rise and fall as a star, was captured in a visionary panorama by Luhrmann, along with the equally daunting and persistently dedicated talent of Butler. The pair brought, for the first time, a groundbreaking biopic in an era when biopics are all the rage, and yet managed to secure a mark above all the rest.

Related article: ‘He’s Taking It’: Fans Are Convinced Austin Butler Wins The Oscars For Elvis

Austin Butler’s Extraordinary Rise to Global Fame

The 30-year-old actor has had a career spanning a couple of decades, having started as a child actor on Nickelodeon. Soon, he outgrew his Hannah Montana and iCarly roles when he was cast as Wil Ohmsford, a regular in the popular fantasy series adapted from Terry Brooks’ trilogy, The Shannara Chronicles. The actor then went on to star in the Tarantino-directed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) before being cast in the musical biopic.

"Elvis" UK Special Screening - Arrivals
Austin Butler attends the Elvis UK screening

Also read: Baz Luhrmann Follows Zack Snyder as Elvis Director’s Cut is 4 Hours Long

The filming as far as the actor can recall hadn’t been an easy feat to master. The dreaded emotion-driven life and performance of each of Elvis’ numbers intermittently sprawled over the late 50s, 60s, and 70s until the rockstar’s tragic death in 1977 had to be enacted out and compiled into a 2-hour set. Under Luhrmann’s direction, all of it was possible although it required the actor to understand that there would be an exacting toll.

Austin Butler Recalls the Physical Toll of Performing as Elvis

At a constitutional level, Austin Butler knew he had to deliver the performance of a lifetime with this film. Elvis would define him for the rest of his career and his trajectory would be measured relative to his performance in the film. He recollects how he had ensconced himself into an apartment that could easily be confused for a mural or a shrine dedicated to the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Butler immersed himself in studying Elvis inside out and that meant an introspective look into the life and the person that he was supposed to portray on film.

Austin Butler as Elvis in the Baz Luhrmann biopic
Austin Butler as Elvis in the Baz Luhrmann biopic

Also read: “He Pulled a Gun on Me”: Elvis Presley’s Step-Brother Reveals The King Was Ready to Kill Him If He Touched His Drugs

After the pandemic delay, Luhrmann and the production crew had to move from Australia to L.A. for filming to continue. During this period of discontinuity, the actor honed in on the quirks and idiosyncrasies that radiate a quintessential Elvis. So much so, in fact, that he started losing the essence of who he was as he kept giving all he had to the filming and understudy of the charismatic biopic and its subject:

“You can lose touch with who you actually are. And I definitely had that when I finished Elvis — not knowing who I was. The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to the hospital. My body just started shutting down after the day I finished Elvis.” 

Austin Butler and Baz Luhrmann on the Red Carpet during Elvis premiere
Austin Butler and Baz Luhrmann on the Red Carpet during Elvis‘s premiere

Related article: ‘F*ck That Racist Thief’: Internet Brands Elvis Movie as Anti-Black, Propagating White Savior Myth

Baz Luhrmann’s Excruciating Effect On Austin Butler

The aforementioned was merely one aspect of the filming as the toll not only affected him physically but emotionally as well. Austin Butler was “heckled and humiliated” by studio executives and director Baz Luhrmann on his first day at the recording studio. Although he dismisses the incident as a necessary evil that helped him understand Elvis’ own experience of his first stage appearance, it still doesn’t diminish the trauma left in the wake of the very first day of his career-defining role.

“When I was on my first day in the recording studio, Baz wanted me to get as close to performing as possible. 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.

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.”

Baz Luhrmann on the set of Elvis with Austin Butler
Baz Luhrmann on the set of Elvis with Austin Butler

Related article: Elvis Director Reveals Why Harry Styles Didn’t Get the Role of the King of Rock ‘n Roll 

In the VMAN Fall/Winter issue of 2022, Butler speaks of how Leonardo DiCaprio had warned him of the intricacies of filming with Luhrmann as the Oscar-winning actor himself had had the unpleasant experience while on set filming Romeo + Juliet (1996) and The Great Gatsby (2013). Butler recalls,

“I had spoken to Leo before and he said: ‘Baz is gonna push you in ways you didn’t know somebody could. He’s gonna push you off balance and keep you off balance.'” 

Elvis will be available for streaming on HBO Max from August 8, 2022.

Source: VMAN