What does Austin Butler’s voice sound like? If you’d never seen a video of or tuned into an interview with him before he devoted his entire life to his titular role in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming biopic Elvis, you’d be hard pressed to know. Luhrmann has said that he only recently found out, but he seems to be alone in that discovery: The 30-year-old actor—who has repeatedly demonstrated his habit of slipping into the late icon’s voice for months—doesn’t even know himself. “At this point, I keep asking people, ‘Is this my voice?’ because this feels like my real…,” he told Entertainment Tonight over the weekend. “It’s one of those things where certain things trigger it and other times as well it’s, I don’t know. When you live with something for two years, and you do nothing else, I think that you can't help it. It becomes a fiber of your being.”
Butler claims that he was so committed to picking up Elvis’s muscular habits, his mouth changed. That may sound hard to believe, but the actor had already spent so much time perfecting Elvis’s Southern drawl that by the time he first met with Luhrmann about the role, the director was convinced that he was from Texas. (“I was told, ‘Oh no—he’s from Anaheim [in California],’” he recently told the New York Times.) That was just the beginning: Over the course of the next two years, Butler did his utmost to become Elvis incarnate. His already well regarded work ethic was magnified by the fact that he had endless time on his hands, having gotten stuck alone in Australia amid lockdown during filming. He papered his walls with photos of the musician, and spent his days studying and mimicking Elvis’s movements in addition to his voice.
Pouring himself into the role came with a cost for Butler. He put so much energy into resurrecting Elvis that his body revolted less than 24 hours after they finished filming. “My body just started shutting down,” he told GQ last month. After being rushed to the hospital, he was bedridden for a week. In the end, though, it just may have been worth it: A Best Actor Oscar win seems all but guaranteed. And if he doesn’t take home the trophy, well, the Academy will have blood on its hands. Lisa Marie Presley—who has repeatedly praised Butler for his portrayal of her late father—has said that if it fails to award him, she’ll “eat [her] foot.”