'Acting through song': How Austin Butler transformed into the King of Rock and Roll for 'Elvis'

‘Acting through song’: How Austin Butler transformed into the King of Rock and Roll for ‘Elvis’

MANILA, Philippines — Austin Butler faces the daunting task of portraying on the silver screen one of the greatest performers who ever lived, the King of Rock and Roll himself Elvis Presley, in Baz Luhrmann’s newest film “Elvis.”

Unlike most biopics, “Elvis” is told from the viewpoint of the singer’s manager Colonel Tom Parker played by veteran actor Tom Hanks, witnessing the rise of the rock star in a country facing changes of its own.

Luhrmann said that Butler “went on an extraordinary journey to play this role but, more importantly, to discover… Elvis,” comparing the legendary singer’s fame with that of Marilyn Monroe’s and Frank Sinatra’s.

“Marilyn embodies a time, a place, a sensibility, a symbology—Elvis as we came to know him happened in a flash,” Luhrmann continued, detailing how he went from truck driver to the most talked about, most provocative and most famous young man in the world.

And while Sinatra was a swooner in his own right, Luhrmann said that Elvis was more direct as he connected with fans through the radio and television.

“The level of rapid celebrity and wealth had no precedent and Elvis was on his own,” added the director, quoting Presley in that “it’s very hard to live up to an image.”

Related: First look at Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ biopic

Having that in mind posits an even more difficult challenge for Butler, but he owed the on-set transformation to the film crew, particularly Luhrmann.

“The brilliant thing about Baz is that, in the most gentle and caring way, he can take you to a place where you can do more than you ever thought possible. He creates an environment where you’re free to make mistakes, and free to try things,” Butler said.

The actor shared he worked with movement coach Polly Bennett in order to get internalize Presley’s physicality, while he add different vocal coaches because Presley’s distinct speech and singing changed over the years.

“In finding Austin we were so lucky because he was capable of actually singing so much like Elvis from that era, this kind of early, rough, rock and roll punk sound,” Luhrmann said.

The director elaborated the task he had for Butler was not just to be another impersonation but to really show the kind of human being Presley was.

“Reveal the private Elvis and most of all, reveal the humanity and the spirituality of the man,” the Oscar-nominated director explained. “While I really respect the craft of the ‘tribute artist,’ this is fundamentally different work; it’s acting through song.”

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