Austin Butler, of Disney Channel fame, recently mounted a pivot to “serious actor” by dyeing his hair and playing Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 biopic. As all serious actors must do, he has spent the past six months talking about just how hard he committed to embodying “the King of Rock and Roll.” So far, it seems to be working. In January, he won a Golden Globe for his widely lauded performance as Elvis. His acceptance speech brought renewed attention to a phenomenon that has lingered since the movie’s release: Butler refuses to stop using his Elvis voice, instead weathering the entire awards season speaking as if he is possessed by a southern ghost with laryngitis.
There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that, pre-Elvis, Butler’s voice sounded absolutely nothing like this. According to one GQ interview, he has been using this voice since auditioning for the movie, though not exactly consistently — the writer noted that his audibly forced bass “gradually fades and reemerges” throughout their chat.
To me, this makes perfect sense. Balls-to-the-wall voices, nonexistent accents, and generally speaking in a way that both disturbs and confuses the world has become the hallmark of a great actor, and Butler has taken this maxim to its logical extreme.
However, Butler and his voice coach have put forward a much more concerning theory regarding his voice: Perhaps he is simply stuck like this? Butler seems willing to accept that his current parlance sounds nothing like it used to, but has repeatedly denied consciously altering his voice outside the movie. In June, he told Elle that he channels Elvis to help him feel more confident when he’s speaking in public, referring to some unspecified “triggers” that may cause him to slip into it.
At the Golden Globes, Butler likened his Elvis voice to an accent one acquires after living in a foreign country for a long time. “I don’t think I sound like him still,” he told Golden Globes reporters. “I had three years where that was my only focus in life, so I’m sure that there’s just pieces of my DNA that will always be linked in that way.” In an interview with ABC, his voice coach Irene Bartlett asserted that Butler spent so long (three years, remember?) using this voice that, actually, it could “be there forever.”
However, a recent interview with Butler’s Dune 2 co-star, Dave Bautista, offered a glimmer of hope. According to Bautista, Butler’s character in the sand sequel is “not Austin Butler. It’s not Elvis.” Does this help? If not, Bautista elaborated (sort of) on what exactly this man will sound like the next time he hits the silver screen: “His voice is different, his look is different. Everything about his demeanor is terrifying.” Okay, but is it also …southern? Only time will tell.