CULTURE

Austin Butler Says He Ended Up in the Hospital After Elvis Wrapped

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

If the select few who’ve managed to see Elvis ahead of its June 24 wide release are to be believed, Austin Butler’s performance as the titular rock star is out of this world. Biopics seldom go down well with the families they portray, but the Presleys who’ve gotten a sneak peek at Baz Luhrmann’s latest seem over the moon; Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley went so far as to say, “if Austin Butler doesn’t win an Academy Award, I’m going to eat my foot.” It may have been worth it in the end, but garnering such praise was no easy feat. In a new interview with GQ, Butler revealed that he took his commitment to the role so far, he ended up hospitalized and bedridden.

Thanks to a delay in production after his costar, Tom Hanks, contracted Covid-19, Butler had the chance to dive in even deeper than usual (and that’s saying something). Holed up in quarantine, he turned his room into what GQ describes as “a detective scene.” “Just images of Elvis everywhere, from every time period,” he told the magazine. “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.” His research included studying the mannerisms of animals like cats and alligators that reminded him of Elvis’s movements and adopting an accent that he still slips into to this day.

That all sounds pretty harmless, but Butler’s immersive approach began to take a toll. He sought advice from Hanks, whose suggestion that he take a moment to read something unrelated to Elvis each day came as a relief. “That gave me permission, because up till that point, I was only reading everything to do with Elvis,” Butler recalled. “I was only listening to Elvis. It was Elvis’s influences and Elvis himself and nothing else.” It was like that for more than a year before they finally wrapped in March of 2021, at which point things quickly came to a head. “My body just started shutting down the day after I finished Elvis,” Butler said. “The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to the hospital.” According to GQ, he was diagnosed with an appendicitis-like virus and bedridden for a week.

It’s no wonder Denzel Washington, who lobbied for his former Broadway costar to get the role, called Luhrmann up to tell him that Butler’s work ethic is unlike any other before the casting was official. (“I’ve never seen anyone who devotes every single second of their lives to perfecting a role,” the director recalls Washington saying on the call, which came out of the blue.) As for what Butler will immerse himself in next—and hopefully a bit less intensely—he’s set to star as an Air Force major in the Apple TV miniseries Masters of the Air and opposite Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune: Part 2.