Last week, Priscilla Presley, the ex-wife and widow of Elvis Presley, shared her honest review of Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming biopic, aptly titled Elvis. In her Facebook post, she wrote, “Austin Butler, who play[s] Elvis, is outstanding [...] Bravo to him. He knew he had big shoes to fill.”
Big shoes to fill, certainly, and though Elvis was a man of shoes, he was mostly a man of voice, and after Butler walked the Met Gala carpet with Priscilla Presley, fans are wondering: “Did this guy always sound like that?”
In the video in question, Butler speaks with Variety about his gratitude for Priscilla’s approval and the film’s upcoming premiere. “I think I’ll see it in Cannes for the first time,” the actor says, a normal sentence, by all accounts, but one delivered like a slow purr of a wild tiger. Butler sounds like a gravity blanket, a waning candle. He speaks with a slow, almost Southern –– dare I say, Tennessee? –– drawl, his head cocked to the side as he coos into the mic. He sounds, obviously, like Elvis.
On TikTok, and on Twitter, Butler’s tens of fans are asking: “Did he go method?” “Did he change his voice completely?” “Why does he not sound like he did when he was on a children’s show fifteen years ago?”
Is Austin Butler performing the voice of Elvis as part of his press tour for Elvis or did his voice go through the natural process that every man goes through where it goes an octave deeper and Southern when he turns 30? Let’s find out.
First thing’s first: fans are culling evidence from Butler’s past projects like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and something called Yoga Hosers. Past Butler performances don’t count in this investigation, because presumably he was doing his job: acting.
At the premiere of Disney’s Prom back in 2011, Butler, who would have been 20 at the time, discusses inanities relating to all things prom with a middle-range California accent, hitting the ‘a’ of awesome particularly hard.
By the time Butler is cast as Sebastian Kydd on The Carrie Diaries two years later, his voice has dropped a little, with a significant bit of downspeak in his interviews, which projects a lowness onto his voice that might not be there. When determining whether he’s an Aidan or a Mr. Big, however, Butler does have a bit of a demure cadence, more in line with a young River Phoenix or Johnny Depp.
By 2019, however, at the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiere, dyed black hair and all, Butler has an almost completely different way of speaking, referring to the preparation process as “a series of intense exploration”:
It’s possible that had Elvis’s shooting schedule gone as planned, no global pandemic and Hollywood shut-down to contend with, that Butler could have bid farewell to Elvis at the end of principle photography. But Elvis took an extended hiatus and Butler spent 2020 isolated on Australia’s Gold Coast, recreating, as best he could, Elvis’s life. Though we all went a little nutty in 2020 (remember all the sourdough?), most of us were not preparing to be the most famous singer of all time. Perhaps this is why his Elvis co-star Tom Hanks warned him against getting in too deep with the character, advising him to “Commit to one thing a day that has nothing to do with the job.” According to the Vogue interview, Butler keeps himself busy using meditation apps, something that Elvis, rest in peace, did not live long enough to see.
So is Butler doing an “Elvis voice” in the build-up to the release of the film? Sure seems like it. He certainly wouldn’t be the first young actor playing a mid-century, too-soon-gone singer to get a little weird about it: Rami Malek believed Freddy Mercury’s ghost protected their film (it didn’t) and Marion Cotillard entered another dimension playing Edith Piaf (sick). Besides, on a short list of guys to embody, you could do worse than the King.