Austin Butler understood Elvis Presley's pain following mother's death at same age as music icon

11 January 2023, 17:05

Elvis movie: Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler on the King's journey to big screen

By Tom Eames

Austin Butler has opened up about how he understood the pain Elvis Presley felt following the death of his mother, as he went through the same emotions.

In an exclusive interview with Smooth Radio, Elvis actor Austin spoke to Angie Greaves alongside Baz Luhrmann about what it meant to have played the late singer.

Elvis stars Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, and the film shows the close bond the singer had with his mother Gladys, who died at the height of his fame in the late 1950s.

Austin's mother Lori Anne died of cancer in 2014 when he was aged 23, the same Elvis was when Gladys died.

Watch the full interview above.

"The first thing I actually sent to Baz was coming out of this grief that I was feeling, relating to my mom, and me singing 'Unchained Melody'," Austin said.

"And so that was the foundation. That was my first moment where I realised, 'If I was to do this, this is how I’d want to approach playing Elvis'.

Austin Butler as Elvis
Austin Butler as Elvis. Picture: Alamy

"That was the first key into it. And so, in a way, this film… I didn’t think about it at the time. It wasn’t this conscious thing. But I’ve looked back and gone, 'It ends up feeling like a love letter'.

"It ends up feeling sort of like this love letter to my mom, and to Elvis and his mom, you know? Because that’s the biggest void I’ve felt in my life, losing her.

"And she was my best friend. I’ve never experienced that type of unconditional love, and I probably never will, of a mother – a “sense”, is what I mean. And I know that’s how Elvis felt."

Elvis Presley with his parents Gladys and Vernon
Elvis Presley with his parents Gladys and Vernon. Picture: Getty

He continued: "So those scenes – I mean, you’re talking about the grief moment. Those are the scenes you kind of dread, because it’s so painful. It’s like walking into a burning building. You’re like, 'I just don’t want to go in there'. But once you’re there, it also doesn’t feel like playing pretend, you know? It feels so real.

"We go through a lot of life not letting it out. And it can build up, and we won’t experience the lows, as low as they feel, and then it will deaden us from being able to feel the highs. I know that after a day like that on set, I was exhausted, but I had been able to work through certain emotions.

"So that’s one of the beautiful things about what we get to do, you know? You’re merging your life and art, and someone else’s life, and their own experiences."

Austin Butler shows off Elvis impressions

Elvis follows the life and career of Elvis Presley, under the controversial stewardship of Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks.

Director Baz Luhrmann added that he wanted to make sure that they didn't do all the usual Elvis stereotypes with how Austin played him.

"I haven’t said this before, and haven’t said it in front of Austin. But I remember, during the process, very early on, I met Lisa Marie. She put her lip up. All their lives, the Presley family have had to put up with [rubbish].

"You know, there are tribute artists – but the tropes. You know, the tropes? The eye, the lip, all of that. And I remember, it was this delicate balance of pushing towards those recognisable things, but then him sort of, as an actor, going, 'No, I’m going to lean back from that.'

"Because it’s about making sure you didn’t ever get distracted by a trope. You were always feeling the person, you know?"

Elvis is released at cinemas on Friday, June 24.