Elvis star Austin Butler, who plays the musician in Baz Lurhmann’s film, says it is important to contextualize the influence of Black culture on his career.
“The fact is, we do not have Elvis without Black music or Black culture,” Butler told Shadow and Act exclusively in a recent interview with the show’s cast. ‘You can’t tell [the] story without it. But the fact is as well that credit hasn’t been given where credit is due. Certain people know certain details, but I was so proud that I got to be a part of this story that puts his life in context.”
One of the earliest moments in the film revisits Presley as a child sneaking into Black churches and Black bars and taverns and listening to the music
“Just thinking of it in the context of the fact that when you’re a little kid and you don’t have ideas about segregation or anything,” Butler said. “You’re just a kid hanging out with other kids. The moments of seeing music that goes beyond just cerebral and it hits your soul– that’s what he was experiencing. The moments of him being down in Beale Street and being in Club Handy,…I mean, the owner of Club Handy himself talked [how he] would see Elvis be the only white face in there. The fact is that’s where he felt the most at home [and] hat’s where he was getting recharged, and there was so much purity in that. I’m really just so grateful to have been a part of getting to bring that to light.”
Butler also spoke to us about the now-viral story making the rounds about Denzel Washington playing a role in him being cast in Elvis. Washington phoned up Lurhmann, who he didn’t even know personally, to tell him Butler should be Elvis after he worked with him on Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh.
On revisiting all of the small moments in his career that have led to Elvis, Butler explained, “I’ve been trying to take a lot more of those moments, especially in the midst of everything right now because it’s this whirlwind where I’m in London one day, in Australia the next, and now I’m here in Memphis. And in every place, something incredible is happening. And I’ve had so many moments like that in my life. The fact that Denzel would even call or even that he knows who I am still blows my mind. So we got to do that play together, [and] I look at all these moments in my life [and] I remember all throughout my career, these moments where something felt like a pivotal moment. Sometimes I go a long time without thinking about it. And then when I do, it really just makes me feel so grateful. And so, I’ve been trying to take more of those moments.”
Watch the full Elvis interviews below, which also feature Kelvin Harrison Jr., Olivia DeJonge, Yola and Alton Mason.