As I wrote last week re: Austin Butler hosting SNL, the timing couldn’t be better for him. Austin is in contention for a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in Elvis. He is the youngest candidate in the field which is why they’ve been strategic about how present he is on the campaign circuit, so as to not appear too thirsty and wanting it too badly alongside veteran actors who, some might say, have paid their dues.
Hosting Saturday Night Live, though, was a smart move – not only to showcase his abilities but also to show that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, that he can still have fun through this process, that he can make fun of himself through the process. Which is what he did off the top during his opening monologue, addressing the issue of his voice, and how he was so committed to playing Elvis that he can’t stop talking like Elvis, even though he’s way past the point of needing to sound like him. Austin is saying here that he gets it, that he gets why people are eyerolling his Method-ness, but he’s also not so Method to make the experience miserable for the other people on set with him… ahem, Jared Leto.
But Austin also, cleverly, reminds people during his monologue that while he may be the youngest Oscar contender in the category this year, he’s been doing this a while. He started acting as a child – and bringing up this fact serves two purposes: to highlight his career background, that this did not come overnight, but also to explain why he got into acting in the first place. It was for his late mother, because performing was something she encouraged in him, because he used to perform for her.
The monologue was a sweet and simple tribute to the person most dear to him, delivered with sincerity and emotion without feeling emotionally manipulative. And that set the tone for the rest of the episode.
Was the writing always effective? No, of course not, it never is. Were there enough sketches that gave Austin an opportunity to shine? Absolutely. And he went for it. He went for it as a horny Jewish senior citizen, he went for it as an angry colleague playing White Elephant gift exchange, he was game for anything, and then, on top of that, he was asked to sing “Blue Christmas” for Cecily Strong’s send-off, which he did beautifully, and that worked to remind people of what he brought to Elvis…without giving Lea Michele. Austin flexed his vocal ability without taking away from Cecily – that’s a really delicate balance, and somehow he found it.
So the takeaway is likability. The cast liked him, you could feel that during the show, and the audience can pick up on that, and the likeability is transferred. For Austin, that amounts to a win, a big win at exactly the right time.
Austin celebrated at the SNL after-party, per tradition, and Kaia Gerber was seen there with him. In January, when the award ceremonies begin, I wonder whether or not Kaia will be joining him on those carpets.