The reviews for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis are in, and both critics and the Presley family are lauding Austin Butler’s convincing performance as the titular “King of Rock n’ Roll.” But while it all turned out well, the 30-year-old actor was hardly handed the part: Butler — who, until now, was mostly known for his work on The Carrie Diaries, Zoey 101, and other teen TV series — was unknown to the director prior to his audition, and was only introduced to Luhrmann after he sent in a tape of himself singing one of Elvis’ songs in a bathrobe.
“There's nothing more precious or important to me than to curate an actor,” Luhrmann told Entertainment Weekly earlier this month when discussing Butler’s audition. “That tape felt like… We live in a world where people are always posting stuff on the internet, and the stuff that really gets your attention is a moment of reality.”
But was that “moment of reality” limited to his audition tape, or did Butler get the chance to really sing in Elvis, too? Below, an overview of how Butler did — and didn’t — really sing in Elvis.
That’s Austin Butler’s Real Voice — But It’s Also Elvis Presley’s
In an interview with Variety, Elvis’ composer Elliott Wheeler explained that he worked alongside music editor Jamieson Shaw to blend Butler’s vocals with Presley’s: Butler recorded his own version of every song, and Presley’s voice was added during post-production. “If we did end up using Elvis takes, we ended up slicing [parts of] Austin’s performance,” Wheeler told Variety. “We used a lot of the breaths, grunts and body movements that are Austin, and we’d switch back to Elvis.”
Wheeler said that the scenes depicting a young Presley — the first part of the film — mostly feature Butler’s voice, and the latter half includes more of Presley’s singing. “Austin performs everything up until 1968 … Everything after that was Elvis, and that was partly to do with the fidelity of the stems — the stereo recordings sourced from mixes of multiple individual tracks, such as drums, vocals and bass — in this case, we were using vocal stems.”
A Movement Coach Was Also Consulted
Movement coach Polly Bennett helped Wheeler study the actor’s body during his performances, because the body’s movements impact a singer’s vocal performance: “If [Elvis] were swinging his arm, that would affect the singing, so we would watch Austin embody all of that and get that technique down.”
Butler told Collider that he got so wrapped up in Presley’s mindset and mannerisms that he struggled to “find himself” after filming wrapped. “It was really a solid couple months before I really felt some semblance of normal afterward. I'd never done something in the way where I just put my life aside,” Butler said. “I didn't see my family. I didn't see my friends. I didn't see anybody for the two years that I was filming the movie or working on it. You don't know what to do with yourself when you finish. It's really strange.”