Austin Butler Spent Two 'Life Or Death' Years As Elvis For Movie Role
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Luhrmann said the actor also shared a similar tragic backstory to the singer, which he tapped into when preparing for the role.
Both Elvis and Austin were just 23 years old when their mothers died. And it was a dream about his mother that led to Austin landing the role.
"He had a nightmare about his mother, and he went down, and he played 'Unchained Melody' in a flood of tears and stuff, and he sent a video, and I saw it, and it wasn't an audition," said Luhrmann. "I'm not sure what I would say it was, except just unbelievable, spiritual, raw emotion.
"He's lived as Elvis for two years, day and night, and his commitment to the role was such that I had to tell him to stop because he would hurt himself. I don't think I've had an experience like that with an actor. I think it was a life or death thing for him."
And Luhrmann is keen to see how the film resonates with younger viewers, who have instant fame at their fingertips: "I think that younger people are responding to it in the most unexpected way because they are really connected to the idea of instant fame now.
"You know, like you can be a TikTok superstar in twenty minutes, and Elvis was the first-ever teen idol. There were no teen idols before because teenagers didn't exist with money.
"They didn't have money to buy stuff then, suddenly, they can buy stuff and it happened to [Elvis] overnight, like he's driving a truck one minute and two years later he's the richest, most famous man on the planet."
But that fame came at a price, with Luhrmann explaining that the cycle of constant performing, of being treated like a 'trained carnival act', left the King 'caught in a trap.'
The director's exploration of instant fame and the toll it takes is, he hopes, an 'important' message for fans: "We haven't yet seen what happens when you're a 35-year-old TikTok star? What happens when your following falls off? Or do you reboot?
"You can always point at an icon and say, 'Why don't they just go to Hawaii and sit under a coconut tree? People love them, what's their problem? They've got all those cars and all that stuff, what's their problem?' But that doesn't fill the hole in your heart, you know?"
Luhrmann said the story of Elvis resonates with two modern music icons the director has worked with.
"It's interesting with Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Prince. I didn't know Elvis, but I knew Michael and I worked with Prince twice, I knew him well, and honestly, I say this with love and respect – everyone has their demons – but they turned to what they referred to as 'medication', and really it's numbing them because of the diminishing returns of that kind of intense love and fame."