Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis premiered at Cannes earlier this week to a big reaction. So far, the 12-minute standing ovation that the film received is the longest of the festival this year and as I mentioned in my coverage of the premiere yesterday, there’s already talk that Austin Butler’s performance could contend for the Best Actor Oscar. I mean, we’re a long way from that but campaigns can and do start in Cannes (Parasite, for example), and it’s not like the Academy and the Oscar show producers and ABC, the broadcast network, wouldn’t love if Elvis were in the building. Especially if the movie is a box office hit…which… I think it’s possible. Bohemian Rhapsody was a big box office hit and Rami Malek went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury. Elvis and Austin could follow a similar trajectory, only as part of a film that’s probably a lot more cohesive. Remember there was a director change on Rhapsody and the film was a disjointed mess. Elvis may not end up being critically acclaimed but it will for sure at least have a consistent vision. Which is to attack your vision with Elvis Presley spectacle and glitz and over-the-top everything, LOL. And also… the beauty of Elvis portrayed through the beauty of Austin Butler.
Get ready for it. Austin Butler is about to become a problem for a lot of people. He is already a problem for me and I haven’t even seen the movie yet. The minute I do, I can already sense it – I’ll be as obsessed with him as Elvis as I was for months after I watched Joaquin Phoenix become Johnny Cash. It was an intense full body crush – which we are about to experience collectively in the age of social media with Austin.
So this is Austin before the madness, on the cover of British GQ; it’s the first time in his career that he’s getting this kind of profile, with this kind of press, as he leads what Warner Bros is hoping will be one of the biggest non-superhero summer blockbusters of the season.
As for the interview, much has been made about how deep into character Austin went for Elvis. His actual speaking voice has changed because of Elvis, which people caught onto at the Met Gala, and which he doesn’t deny, and since it’s happening right at the beginning of his ascent to mega stardom, it’s probably less of an issue than it would be if this were to happen deeper into his fame when more people are familiar with him. He also tells British GQ that he had to be hospitalised after filming because he became so consumed with the work…and that also could be a total side-eye, given how exhausting it’s been to hear story after story of Jared Leto and his method f-cksh-t.
But Austin isn’t Jared Leto, at least not right now. The stories we hear about Jared Leto and his “process” are not just about how the process consumes him but how his process infringes upon the process of the other people who have to work with him. His process interrupts other people’s process. It’s one thing to go full method or whatever and keep it to yourself. It’s another when you go full method and other people have to play along and get a f-cking wheelchair so they can transport you to the bathroom because you’re holding up the production.
This isn’t Austin – and we know it isn’t Austin because in addition to talking about his process and how overwhelmed he was by it, he also reveals that he’s open to advice. And that means that while he has his own process, it doesn’t close him off from collaboration. Austin tells GQ that he wanted to learn from Tom Hanks, and that he not only asked Tom for guidance, he took the guidance to heart.
I’m way less annoyed, and actually not annoyed at all, when I’m hearing about Austin’s process alongside details about how much he respects the work of those who’ve been doing it a lot longer than he has and doesn’t think his way is the best and only.
Speaking of the best, there’s another multiple Oscar winner who’s had an influence on Austin – and whose experience acting with Austin was so positive, he actually spoke on his behalf. That would be the incomparable Denzel Washington.
Denzel and Austin were in The Iceman Cometh together on Broadway in 2018. Austin was smart, he didn’t show up to be Denzel’s friend; instead, he showed up to WORK. He showed up early, he was prepared, he knew his part and he knew everyone else’s part. And Denzel noticed and rewarded him, he pulled him aside one day and, basically, became his acting coach.
The support didn’t stop there. As Baz Luhrmann tells it:
“I get a phone call out of the blue from Denzel Washington, who I did not know. Denzel Washington just said, in the most incredibly emotional and direct way, ‘Look, I’ve just been on stage with this young actor. I’m telling you, his work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anyone who devotes every single second of their lives to perfecting a role.’”
Denzel Washington does not impress easily. And he’s Denzel Washington, he doesn’t make phone calls for just anyone. He understands the weight of his words and the value of his endorsement. And he personally, without being asked, endorsed Austin Butler.
So to go back to Austin having to be hospitalised after working on Elvis on and off for almost two years… well… yeah. I don’t think it’s necessarily about him being too method, I think it must have been the pressure. Imagine getting an endorsement from Denzel Washington for your mega superstar breakout role – who WOULDN’T collapse from the pressure every day knowing you have to live up to that expectation?! On top of the fact that you’re playing ELVIS PRESLEY!
Will it pay off? Seems like is has already given the reviews so far. And we’ll find out for sure in a month when Elvis finally opens and I go to see it, probably, three times in one week, if not more.
Also attached - more of Austin at the Elvis photo call yesterday in Cannes.