How Austin Butler Was Really Able To Transform Into Elvis Presley

Until the release of Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis", Austin Butler was mainly known for his work as a child star on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon (via Daily Mail). But as Lurhmann developed his biopic in 2014 (via The Wrap), Butler was in the running alongside major stars like Harry Styles, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller (via Deadline). But for casting director Denise Chamian, Butler's captivating persona stuck with her throughout the audition process. "There was something about Austin to me that was a little reminiscent of Elvis," she told Variety.

It wasn't clear to the production team that Butler was the right Presley at first, but something clicked when the screen tests came around. "Austin's work ethic is also what set him apart, and his ability to understand material and translate that and make it feel so honest" was what cinched the role, according to Chamian. That, combined with his unbelievable transformation into Presley, set Butler out among the rest. But how did he go from the early days of his audition and screen test to embodying Presley so completely?

Austin Butler didn't want to impersonate Elvis Presley

The most important thing for Austin Butler in playing Elvis Presley was making sure the singer's family was comfortable with his portrayal. "I wanted to make Priscilla proud and do justice to her and her family," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. Second to that was making sure that he wasn't playing "a caricature" of the icon. "For me, it was just trying to find out who he was as a man, to humanize him and connect to him on that level," he explained. In the beginning, Butler wanted to sound and look "identical to him," but soon realized he had a "false expectation . . . that I could make my face identical to his." So instead, Butler settled on developing his interpretation of Presley by basing it on "merging our two souls," he explained to the outlet. 

Butler did this through tireless research, by studying footage and even going so far as to take tap dancing lessons to master Presley's stage presence. Getting the hang of the little things, "like the way he would shake his leg, was very tiring." By the end of the filming, Butler's dedication ended with him in hospital. "It was all-consuming," he told Entertainment Weekly. "Then my body just said, 'All right, I need to rest.'"

Butler connected to Presley on an emotional level

Like how Rami Malek transformed into Freddie Mercury for "Bohemian Rhapsody," Austin Butler worked with the film's movement coach Polly Bennett to really nail Elvis Presley's spirit. "We'd find these moments that could somehow express his humanity," Butler explained to Entertainment Weekly. "You want it to be identical, but it's got to feel like it's never happened before."

Aside from learning everything there is to know about Presley, Butler connected to the singer on a deep, emotional level. They both lost their momos at a young age. "That was one of the first keys that connected me to him on a very human level rather than the idea of Elvis," he said. "Learning how close he was with his mom . . . I could connect to him on that level of grief."

To Butler's castmates, his transformation into Presley was unbelievable. Tom Hanks, who played Colonel Tom Parker, was astounded by "his sense of decorum and dedication" on set. "I never saw the guy where he wasn't going back for training, for choreography, for accent work, back into the studio to do more recording, or on a mock stage with a microphone," Hanks said.

The actor struggled to let go of Presley's presence

Aside from channeling Elvis Presley's spirit, Austin Butler had costume designer Catherine Martin (via YouTube) and hair and makeup artist Shane Thomas on hand to truly transform him into the star (via Popsugar). Martin was given the opportunity to work with archivists at Graceland to get the exact measurements of Presley's jumpsuits, in which they created "a very long chart" to "conceptualize" that aspect of the singer's career. "You can basically draw from the legacy of Elvis' costumes, and synthesize a look out of what he actually wore, and imagine what he would've worn in this particular scene," she explained to Vanity Fair (via YouTube).

As for the hair and makeup, Thomas used a combination of Butler's natural hair and wigs to capture Presley's perfect locks and used prosthetics to subtly change Butler's facial structure to match Presley's over the decades by placing them on his cheekbones, chin, and jawline. For Presley's final scene on screen, Thomas and the team incorporated fat prosthetics to match the singer's last performance.

Obviously, much work went into transforming Butler into Presley — personally and as a team. But, unsurprisingly, the actor is struggling to let go of the icon, which is still evident in his voice. "It's been a slow process," he told Entertainment Weekly, "but you don't quite know what to do with yourself after two years of doing nothing else but trying to get inside the mind of another person."