It’s the kind of role that actors wait their whole lives for – larger- than-life, complex and flamboyant. In Baz Luhrmann’s spectacular 2022 Elvis Presley biopic, Austin Butler gave a performance that seemed even more authentic than the real thing. Throughout the movie, the 32-year-old American, who beat Harry Styles, Ansel Elgort, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Miles Teller to the rhinestone-laden role, proves at every instant that he was made to play the King. Not only did he sing “live” in several concert scenes, swivelling his hips with voluptuous verve, he put his entire soul into an obsessional and almost mystical performance that seeks to show the human side of the man behind the legend.
Austin Butler, Hollywood's rising star and hero of the biopic Elvis
Almost three years preparing for the role, taking lessons in swing, tap dance and karate, and working long hours to bring off a perfect imitation of Elvis’s voice and gestures. Far from his family (his life partner is the model Kaia Gerber), he slept little, shutting himself up in an apartment whose walls were plastered with photos of Presley. So impregnated was he with his character’s traits that he spoke with the King’s accent for months after filming was over, and spent a week in hospital at the end of it all due to a virus initially diagnosed as appendicitis. After the shoot, nothing would ever be quite the same.
Austin Butler : from Quentin Tarantino to Jim Jarmusch
Intense, determined, mysterious, angelic and sensual, the actor has blazed his own idiosyncratic trail through the Hollywood system. He started out playing small-screen pretty boys in series such as Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana (2006–07, alongside Miley Cyrus), The Carrie Diaries (the prequel to Sex and the City, 2013–14), Crime Scene Investigation and The Shannara Chronicles (2016–17), which was broadcast on MTV. He then made waves on the stage in the company of his mentor, Denzel Washington, who has spoken admiringly of Butler’s perfectionist streak. That performance would alter his career trajectory, garnering him parts in both Quentin Tarantino’s wild-eyed Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, as a dangerous member of the Charles Manson sect, and Jim Jarmusch’s comic-horror The Dead Don’t Die, both released in 2019. These two powerful films d’auteur, with their deranged hippies and ravenous zombies, proved that, rather than giving in to the nice-boy typecast, the angel-faced Anaheim native was more than prepared to take risks.
The versatile and adventurous Butler will soon appear on the small screen once more in the Apple TV+ miniseries Masters of the Air, developed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on the theme of American military pilots in World War II. And he has upcoming roles on the big screen too, from the mafia movie City on Fire to the 1960s-set The Bikeriders, along-side Tom Hardy, not to mention the much-anticipated second episode of Dune, whose five-star cast – besides Butler it features Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet and Léa Seydoux – will light up cinemas this November. In this sequel to the sci-fi blockbuster, directed by the Canadian Denis Villeneuve, Butler will no doubt surprise his many fans in the role of the baddie Feyd Rautha, Timothée Chalamet’s nemesis, sporting a shaved head and bleached eyebrows. Like Chalamet, Butler knows how to seduce outside of established conventions, mixing masculinity and femininity, confidence and sensitivity, complexity and authenticity with an audaciousness that caught the attention of Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, who chose his perfect features and rock’n’roll aura to represent their new men’s fragrance MYSLF. This suave, elegant, gender-fluid scent, which mixes fresh and woody floral notes (orange flower and bergamot), invites every man to embrace his many different facets to achieve true fulfilment, a life lesson that Butler personifies with great panache.
Interview with Austin Butler, ambassador for MYSLF by Yves Saint Laurent Beauté
Numéro : You’ve said that you were a very shy child. When did you start daring to be yourself?
Austin Butler : Yes, I was very shy as a child, and that’s still a part of me. But now I feel I’m better equipped to fight that shyness. I’ve been through a lot of things that forced me to leave my comfort zone. We each have so much inside of us! It’s like that Bob Dylan song that says, “I contain multitudes...” So many, in fact, that until our last breath we never realize how much we’re going to learn about ourselves. Personally I embrace the constant evolution of who I am, and I also embrace others both for what they are and for the way they evolve and grow over time.
You went to great lengths when portraying Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s film. What do you have in common with the King?
Like me, he was a very shy child, and when he started playing music, he didn’t want to perform before an audience. He wanted the public to hear him, but he would have preferred to do it in a dark room or with everyone’s back turned to him so they wouldn’t watch him. And then, over time, he managed to do things he was afraid of and to enlarge his range of possibilities. Just like what I was saying about myself. There are so many facets I like about Elvis! He was such a complex person. He was extraordinarily kind and polite, and wanted to be a good person for his mother and for everyone in his life. But, on the other hand, he could be incredibly wild and playful on stage. While shooting the film, Baz Luhrmann and I often talked about the contrast between the sacred and the profane. Elvis embodied both.
How do you choose your roles?
The director counts for a lot, obviously, and I’ve been very lucky these past few years to work with some of my favourite filmmakers, because as an actor you have to be able to trust the director since you’re so vulnerable. The story counts too – it’s like the heartbeat of the movie, you want to be able to believe in it. And then there’s the character you’re playing. It takes a lot of time to prepare and shoot a film, and what I’m looking for is that to a certain extent the project frightens me. I like it when the challenge has something terrifying about it, because that’s what makes you concentrate and dig deep down inside and learn things about yourself. It’s one of the great joys of acting: you have to discover in yourself things that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It requires you to undertake a constant exploration and excavation of your own soul.
"Acting requires you to undertake a constant exploration and excavation of your own soul." - Austin Butler
Has winning the Golden Globe for best actor in January this year changed your life?
It means a lot to me, because gaining recognition from your peers is deeply touching when you’ve worked so hard on a job. But I don’t think it’s changed me as a person. This period of my life has been very special: a community of filmmakers and actors who I’ve admired for years has, this past year in particular, welcomed me with open arms. These people inspire me enormously and I feel huge gratitude towards them.
What’s your attitude towards fashion and beauty?
They are modes of self-expression that reflect our aspiration to surround ourselves with things that reflect our tastes, be it a scent, clothing or, more generally, artworks that you have at home. It’s the idea of surrounding yourself with things that you love, that inspire you and that give you energy. At any rate, that’s the role fashion and beauty play in my life.
Yves Saint Laurent once said, “I came to understand that the most important encounter in life is with oneself.” Would you agree?
Totally. You are the only person who will stay with you all your life, and that’s true for all of us. He uses the term “encounter with oneself” in the truest sense, which is to say being radically honest with yourself and paying attention to all the nuances of your own tastes and desires as well as the way they evolve over time. As human beings, we all have many facets. These days, everyone is constantly comparing themselves to everyone else. So many people feel the need to conform to what others say they should be.As far as I see it, the best art and the most convincing ideas always find their source in being authenticly oneself and in respecting one’s own uniqueness.
What attracts you to the world of Yves Saint Laurent Beauté?
I have admired the brand for many years: the cut of the clothes, the choice of fabrics and Yves Saint Laurent’s perfumes. I like the way MYSLF evolves on the skin: when you first put it on, there are a lot of floral and citrus notes, after which comes a warm and woody aroma that further exalts the scent of orange flower. I’m not an expert, but I can tell you I adore that. What’s more, over the past few years I’ve learned a lot about Yves Saint Laurent himself, a man whom I respect enormously. I admire the way his mind worked, the creativity that flowed out of him and his rebellious image in both the fashion industry and the world at large. He didn’t tick boxes or conform to the labels that society and some of those in his entourage tried to stick on him. Instead, he tore up all the labels and offered a far more fluid and attractive proposition.
Masters of the Air (2024) by John Orloff, streaming on January 26th, 2024, on Apple TV+. Dune: Part Two (2024) by Denis Villeneuve, in theaters March 1st, 2024. MYSLF perfume by YSL Beauté, avalaible.