By the time Elvis filming ended in March 2021, Austin Butler had given himself so much to the role that his body “started shutting down,” the actor said.
The shooting had been scheduled to begin in March 2020 in director Baz Luhrmann‘s home country of Australia, but a few days before the planned start, costar Tom Hanks (who plays Elvis Presley‘s manager, Col. Tom Parker, in the movie), tested positive for COVID-19, and filming went on an indefinite hiatus.
Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, eventually traveled back to the U.S., but Butler opted to remain in Australia while the project was on hold, living in a small apartment surrounded by pictures of the man he would later become onscreen. “Just images of Elvis everywhere, from every time period,” Butler told British GQ. “I think the film would have been very different if we had started shooting at that point, and I’m grateful I had the time to let myself marinate.”
The actor spent the six-month hiatus wallpapering himself with Presley’s mannerisms, look and demeanor, and said his body responded with an unforeseen health issue once filming wrapped and he was finally able to let the character go. “The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to hospital,” Butler said, with the magazine noting that Butler was diagnosed with a virus that simulates appendicitis and spent a week bedridden. Health problems including genetic and autoimmune issues also plagued Presley, who died in 1977 at the age of 42.
Medical issues aside, Butler discovered in his research for the role that he had something else in common with the music pioneer. “His mother passed away when he was 23, and my mum passed away when I was 23,” Butler said. “So when I learned that, it was one of those things where I got chills, and I just thought, ‘OK, I can connect to that.’”
Butler’s immersion into the character continued with the help of vocal and movement coaches who helped him talk, sing and shake like Presley. He also took a trip to Tennessee to experience Graceland, where he met Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley.
The singer never launched a worldwide tour and played only three venues outside the U.S. during his career, all of them in Canada in 1957. But his story did make its way to the French Riviera this week, debuting at the Cannes Film Festival ahead of its U.S. release on June 24. Luhrmann, Hanks and Butler were joined on the red carpet by Priscilla Presley, who has been supportive of Butler and his performance in Elvis.
The Best Rock Movie From Every Year
A look at the greatest biopics, documentaries, concert films and movies with awesome soundtracks.