As Austin Butler’s Elvis Voice Draws Mixed Reactions From Fans, Director Baz Luhrmann Weighs In With Thoughts

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Austin Butler is now officially an Oscar-nominated actor due to his show-stopping performance as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. One of the most-talked-about aspects of this performance, of course, has been the voice he used while playing the part. While it is common for actors to change their manner of speaking when taking on a role (especially of someone as iconic as the singer), The King has seemingly stuck with Butler, whose regular speaking voice still seems to emulate the legendary rock and roll singer's. Now, Luhrmann is weighing in on the discourse and how he feels about Butler’s distinct pipes. 

The Moulin Rouge! director discussed his new film and the buzz surrounding Austin Butler’s performance as the titular singer during interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Luhrmann also added his opinion to the “Elvis voice” controversy and, in his estimation, it merely speaks to Austin Butler’s level of commitment to commitment to the production. Luhrmann got candid when sharing details on Butler's "acting journey":

The thing about Aus — there has been no, in my experience, actual acting journey like the one that Austin went on. I mean, let’s forget the almost inexplicable reality that he lost his mother the same year that Elvis did. The whole journey, this tape that was sent to me, where there was a boy, in tears, playing music, singing a song. Then when the film goes away, I have to tell him, after the shutdown because of COVID, he refused to leave, and doubled down on his work. Now his absorption of the character, and commitment to it, was so great, that when we explained it to Priscilla, she was worried [at first]. She said she didn’t believe anyone could do it — how could that guy do it? [But then] the whole family, we all embraced him, almost like he was part of the family.

The rising star clearly cared a great deal about how to best honor the iconic star and put in the work to emulate The King as best as possible. While many may feel the lasting effects of the role are quite odd or over-the-top to fans (and even a spicy Vanessa Hudgens), the filming process for Elvis was seemingly singular. While many actors may only have to stay in a role for a few months at a time, Butler had to do so for twice as long due to the unique challenges COVID placed on production. As most probably know by now, his co-star, Tom Hanks, famously contracted the virus midway through the shoot, delaying production. Butler chose to continue working on the character through the respite, developing a more prominent likeness to the character and in turn, a more distinct voice. Baz Luhrmann felt that this was a natural change, considering the circumstances: 

I think that you’ve got to understand just how deep the journey has been for him. It’s a role of a lifetime that he gave his life to, he really gave it all for such a long time. And actually the voice — I mean, people’s voices do change. I’ve never known him actually not to speak in the way [he did] in that time. When he first came in, he already had quite a deep tone of voice. Surely he had to inhabit another character completely. But it’s just a measure of how much physical change — I mean, his body changed, physically, just from training to do all that.

Certainly this process ended up working in the leading man's favor, as Elvis received critical praise. The star has also received awards nominations and wins for his performance in the film. He is electric in the role, and many consider the biopic to be a star-making performance for the 31-year-old. Luhrmann was impressed with his transformation and, to that point, he recalled an early run-in with Austin Butler that proves just how down-pact the voice was from the jump:

I’ll tell you a funny story: when he came in, it was about six weeks later that I said to someone, ‘What part of the South is Austin actually from? And they said, ‘Oh, no, he’s from Anaheim.’ He was already obsessively practicing changing the muscles in his mouth. To produce a sound that was the Elvis voice, really.

Given Elvis' unique voice, a lot of effort must’ve required on the California native's part. Austin Butler has certainly come a long way as, years ago, he had starring roles on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon films as a teen and also notably starred on the Sex and the City prequel show, The Carrie Diaries. The actor took a more serious turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A TIme In…Hollywood, which arguably set Butler up for his first big-screen starring role in Baz Luhrmann's latest. So while many will likely continue to talk about his voice, one can somewhat understand why it would stay with him, based on Baz Luhrmann's sentiments.

You can check out Austin Butler in Elvis, which is currently available to stream using an HBO Max subscription. You can also hit up CinemaBlend for information on awards season and the flicks that are part of the schedule of 2023 new movie releases

Caroline Young

Writer, podcaster, CinemaBlend contributor, film and television nerd, enthusiastic person. Hoping to bring undying passion for storytelling to CinemaBlend.