A few weeks ago, Austin Butler set the internet ablaze as he accepted the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture for his performance in Elvis. Though Baz Luhrmann’s biopic received mixed reviews, Butler’s stellar performance as the King of Rock and Roll has been hailed by critics, earning him that Golden Globe. (Update, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023: He’s now also got an Oscar nomination.)
However, the internet doesn’t really seem to care that much about these accolades. What they do care about is his incredibly alluring, not-at-all-annoying Elvis voice.
On May 2, 2022, I sat down in front of my laptop to watch Vogue’s livestream of the Who’s Who of Hollywood walking across the Met Gala carpet in their couture gowns and suits, ready to judge every look from the obviously off-themed to the miraculously perfect. The first on-carpet interview of the night was with Luhrmann, the cast of his then-upcoming Elvis, and Priscilla Presley. Austin Butler, the dashing blond actor whose career I had been following since his early days on Disney and Nickelodeon, was beckoned forward to speak after everyone else.
My phone rang—it was one of my best friends and her sister. I knew immediately what they were going to say.
“Are you watching the Met Gala?” Of course I was.
“Is that Austin Butler’s real voice?”
I’m a stan for Austin Butler—I was there with him from Zoey 101 (2005–08) and The Carrie Diaries (2013–14) to his breakout into movies with fancy directors, like Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (both from 2019). So, of course my best friend called me to inquire about Butler’s voice. And of course I knew the answer: No! This was not the voice my crush used in the copious amount of press he did for Yoga Hosers (2016), The Shannara Chronicles (2016–17), and The Iceman Cometh (2018).
It’s not wildly different; Butler’s voice always had a lower, sultry quality to it, but Butler is from California, not Mississippi, a fact you can remember by thinking about how he grew up near Disneyland (something I’m reminded of in one of my favorite viral clips ever—a clip from his post-Elvis era). The Met Gala voice wasn’t Butler’s voice—it was, undoubtedly, Elvis’.
And it was undoubtedly better.
Butler’s Elvis affect could be seen as early as 2019, when he was beginning preparation for the role, sporting freshly dyed, jet-black hair.
By the time of the Met Gala, in May of last year, the Voice was ingrained. During an interview with Elle Australia just ahead of the film’s wide release in June 2022, Butler acknowledged that he hears the comparison between his voice and Elvis’ often but explained that he “didn’t do anything else for two years” except dedicate himself to becoming Elvis. The outbreak of the pandemic, and co-star Tom Hanks’ subsequent hospitalization with COVID, had halted production of the film for a while, giving Butler time to doggedly, immersively, and intensely prepare for the biggest role of his career thus far.
Butler explained to Elle that he is naturally shy, and “there’s bits of Elvis that [he] would have to click into in order to go out on stage and be in front of people.”
I am aware that ultimately the voice is perhaps a bit silly, and some people believe it is all a farce. But accents are muscular habits, as Butler described to Elle, and if you had trained your voice to be something else for years, it would only make sense that some of it, at least, would linger. And maybe there is something else going on in Austin Butler’s brain: a quasi-Pavlovian response, triggering the Voice at certain times. Becoming Elvis when facing immense media attention and audience adoration does seem like an interesting way to cope with being a very popular, yet incredibly shy, up-and-coming actor.
The discourse on Butler’s Elvis voice subsided as press for the film waned. And now, due to the new wave of Elvis press on the awards circuit, it’s back. When Butler went to accept his Golden Globe a few weeks ago, he stunned viewers at home: Austin Butler, months after the premiere of Elvis, after filming the highly anticipated Dune: Part 2, still sounded like Elvis.
Admittedly, if you compare this Globes acceptance speech with Butler’s interview at the Met Gala, it’s much less Elvisian. But the roots of Elvis’ sultry, deep timbre and Southern twang are still there. Once again, the internet had a field day. Many Twitter users were upset—begging Butler to give up the act already.
I know this whole thing comes off to some as, at best, a cringe charade and, at worst, another example of a narcissistic method actor taking things a little too far. But here’s the thing:
Young Elvis was hot.
Austin Butler is hot.
The voice is pretty damn hot.
I see no reason he should stop laying it on thick. We expect our actors to fully embody characters to the best of their ability, to get as lost in them as they need to for the sake of Art or our entertainment or whatever, but then we get annoyed when they can’t immediately leave it all behind?
During a post-acceptance press interview after the Globes ceremony, Butler defended his voice, saying that he can’t hear the similarities between their speech but, given that his “only focus in life” for years was becoming Elvis, he’s “sure there’s just pieces of [his] DNA that will always be linked in that way.” Is that comment taking it a little too far? Maybe. Is Butler’s voice coach’s coming out to defend him by saying his voice could be like this “forever” a little dramatic? Butler’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens certainly seems to think the whole thing’s a bit much.
Most likely, as Butler himself put it, when he gets a new role he’ll probably lose the Elvis affect. But I’m unsure how true that is—much to my delight. Directly after finishing Elvis, Butler started mock boot camp as prep for Cary Fukunaga’s upcoming World War II miniseries Masters of the Air but told GQ he found it difficult to let go of the King, thinking, “This is what Elvis felt when he was put into the Army.” Fukunaga told GQ, “I was aware when he showed up, he was still very much Elvis.” And we know that filming for Dune: Part Two, for which Butler (who will play Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen) also underwent months of training, finished back in December—yet Butler still accepted his Elvis Globe a few weeks ago in the voice of the man himself.
I, for one, hope Butler never lets the voice go. And now that he’s nominated for an Oscar, I hope we get to experience it, in an interview or an acceptance speech, at least one more time. Everyone says it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, and who are we to deprive Austin Butler of his right to continue doing a pretty good imitation of one of the hottest men in history? If it’s OK for a congressman to pretend he’s a championship-volleyball-playing, expensive-yacht-selling, sad-dog-rescuing descendant of Holocaust survivors who has never tried his hand as a drag queen, I think it’s perfectly fine for Butler to keep a simple Southern twang.