How Austin Butler channeled ‘The King’ for the role of a lifetime

SEATTLE — Despite critical acclaim and a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, actor Austin Butler was concerned about criticism from only one source: the Presley family.

He plays the title role in ELVIS, a daunting job he spent 1.5 years preparing for before filming in 2020.

Entertainment reporter Kim Holcomb spoke to Butler in Memphis a day after Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley praised him at a special screening.

HOLCOMB: “When Lisa Marie Presley said, ‘I had no idea Austin was singing young Elvis, I thought it was my dad,’ what was going on in your head at that moment?”

SERVANT: “I just melted away. It’s hard to articulate what that means to me. It’s been such a responsibility all along and I’m so over the moon right now.”

HOLCOMB: “Three years of your life, that’s a long time. Is there a part of him left? Do you ever walk through the drive through and order with that voice?”

SERVANT: (laughs) “I think he taught me a lot. I sometimes notice it in my humor, I feel it in moments when I feel anxious or nervous. Sometimes I get scared in crowds and stuff like that. And just to see the way he treats fans and the way he treats people — the sincerity and real presence he had. Only being able to focus on one person at a time despite all the noise? That’s really something.”

HOLCOMB: “Remember the very first scene you shot and how you felt when ‘action’ was the order of the day?”

SERVANT: “We had an easy day the first day I got my hair cut for the military. And the next day I did the 1968 special. The hardest, most nerve-wracking experience. I’d been working a year and a half and I’m living this and suddenly you’re like, “this is the moment of truth” where you gotta get out of there. All of that is for naught if it’s not alive on camera. That was my big scare moment, and then it hit me in the dressing room – that’s what Elvis felt like. His career was on the line just as mine feels like it is on the line. His life felt like it was on the line just like mine felt like it was on the line. Instead of pushing that fear away, I just took it and realized it was what he was feeling inside. The real emotion on the faces[of the extras]when I saw one girl blush and another smile it was – it was beyond what I thought and it was really an out of body experience for me.”

HOLCOMB: “What role (of Elvis) did you find most interesting and fulfilling for you to play?”

SERVANT: “I genuinely envy anyone who was in the audience at those moments before he joined the army and he was at the peak of his bestial, punk rock, fiery power. Making Trouble, it was one of those moments, was so exciting.”

“ELVIS” is rated PG-13 and hits theaters on June 24th.

Travel and accommodation are provided by Warner Bros.

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