How Austin Butler Earned His Role as Elvis Presley

“There is only one actor, and his name is Austin Butler.”

"The Dead Don't Die" New York Premiere
Theo Wargo

Austin Butler is officially getting his chance to prove himself as Hollywood’s next big leading man. The 27-year-old actor will play a young Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming biopic. It’s a feat all the more impressive considering he beat other many more well known leading mean-of-the-future contenders, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Harry Styles amongst them. Keep in mind, Luhrmann knows a little something about helping to mint someone’s leading man status. He cast a young Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead in his Romeo + Juliet before Titanic-mania took off after all.

Though, if you don’t think Butler, perhaps best known for his children’s television and teen-focused work, is deserving of the honor, perhaps you haven’t been paying attention. He’s certainly won over his admirers.

Take The New Yorker‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning theater critic Hilton Als word for it. He once wrote, “Although there are many performers [on stage] …There is only one actor, and his name is Austin Butler.” Als was reviewing a 2018 Broadway staging of The Iceman Cometh. One of the other “performers” on stage? Oscar and Tony winner Denzel Washington.

Of course, before getting props from Als, Butler finished something of a BINGO of young actor TV credits, appearing on regular or recurring roles on just about every major channel catering to the under-18 crowd. First there was Nickelodeon (his uncredited recurring role as “Zippy Brewster” in Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide), then Disney Channel (Hannah Montana guest roles, and joining the High School Music universe in Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure), ABC Family/Freeform (Switched at Birth), The CW (the male love interest in the underrated Sex & The City prequel The Carrie Diaries), and MTV (the leading role in fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles). Though, none of his roles became truly iconic amongst the YA set, it’s telling that just about every network wanted a piece of him.

As for those wondering if Butler can sing or play guitar, well, he did once prove that he could on a quickly cancelled Chelsea Handler sitcom.

In the midst of this Tiger Beat phase, Butler also begin dating Disney Channel queen Vanessa Hudgens, and over the past eight years, the couple have become one of the steadiest around, not just amongst young Hollywood, but perhaps Hollywood in general. Indeed, Hudgens didn’t hold back over her pride on the announcement of Butler’s casting as Presley on Instagram.

Of course, as the agents of any former teen star know, there comes a time in their careers where they have to make their turn to the adult and gritty, proving themselves as an actual actor with longevity. While many opt for immediately shocking roles that instantly separate them from their squeaky clean image, Butler has proven his worth in a slightly more low key way. First there was his theater debut in a staging of Death of the Author in Los Angeles back in 2014, and his aforementioned Broadway debut last year. He dipped his toes into indie film back in 2016 with a role in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers, but more notably booked back-to-back supporting roles in summer movies from two of film school boy’s favorite directors: Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Manson family member and murderer “Tex” Watson (Former Disney boys playing serial killers does seem to be a trend).

Though, it seems to have been that Broadway role that won Luhrmann over.

“Throughout the casting process, it was an honor for me to encounter such a vast array of talent,” he told Deadline. “I had heard about Austin Butler from his stand-out role opposite Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway, and through a journey of extensive screen testing and music and performance workshops, I knew unequivocally that I had found someone who could embody the spirit of one of the world’s most iconic musical figures.”

Turns out a glowing write-up in The New Yorker really can do wonders for your career. See? Critics aren’t totally worthless.

Though Butler is set for the title role, he was not the first actor attached to the project. He’ll star opposite Tom Hanks, who is set to play Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker.