‘Elvis’: How Denzel Washington Helped Cast Austin Butler

The director praised Butler’s performance: “What he has managed is not to imitate, but to live Elvis.”

When Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” was first announced, the role of Elvis Presley quickly became one of the most coveted roles in Hollywood. Seemingly every young actor wanted a chance to play The King, with the likes of Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Harry Styles all vying for the part at different points.

How did relative newcomer Austin Butler get on with so much competition? It turns out he got some help from one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

In a new interview with EW, Luhrmann opened up the process of casting Butler as “Elvis,” including a nudge he got from Denzel Washington, who appeared with Butler in a Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman.” Cometh” in 2018.

†[Austin Butler] found me,” said Luhrmann. “I received this videotape of this young man in a stream of tears playing ‘Unchained Melody’ and I thought, ‘Wow, what is that? How come?’”

Although Luhrmann was already intrigued by Butler, it took a phone call from a two-time Oscar winner to seal the deal.

“And then I got a call from Denzel Washington, who called me cold,” he said. “I didn’t know Denzel. And he said, ‘I just worked with this man on stage. I’ve never seen such a work ethic.” And I’m like, ‘OK, I need to see him.’”

Luhrmann did see him, eventually making Butler the rock and roll legend. And once he got the part, Butler had done his job for him. Luhrmann’s comprehensive film covers Elvis’ entire life, dividing it into three distinct chapters.

“His life fits beautifully into three acts,” said Luhrmann. “There’s Elvis the punk, if you will, the original punk rocker, the rebel. Then there’s Elvis the movie man, and then he’s pop and family friendly. And then there’s the ’70s Elvis, which is epic.”

Now that the film is finished, the director couldn’t be happier with Butler’s performance. He further praised the actor for his ability to put his own humanizing spin on the much-mythologized cultural icon.

“Frankly, I sent him through the ringer, but he was alive Elvis,” Luhrmann said. “What he has managed is not to imitate, but to live Elvis, to the extent that he has humanized him.”

“Elvis” hits theaters on Friday, June 24.

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