Austin Butler Says He Put His 'Life on Pause for Two Years' to Prepare to Play Elvis

"What is really important is that his soul comes out," Butler said in a press conference for Elvis at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday

Austin Butler gives it all for a role.

In a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival this Thursday, the 30-year-old actor spoke about what it took to become the King of Rock and Roll in Elvis.

"I basically put the rest of my life on pause for two years," he said, "and I just absorbed everything that I possibly could."

Butler also talked about being obsessed with his character and learning more about the iconic "Love Me Tender" singer: "I just went down the rabbit hole of obsession. And I broke down his life into periods of time where I could hear the differences in how his voice changed over the years and how his movement changed over the years and I spent two years studying, trying to find his humanity as best as I could through that."

Austin Butler
Austin Butler. Jacopo Raule/Getty

Butler continued, "The tricky thing is you see Elvis as this icon, or as the wallpaper of society and finding a way to strip all of that away and find the very human nature of him that was deeper than all of that, that's what was fascinating for me."

Overall, though extensive, the experience for Butler was well worthwhile: "The ability to get to explore that was just the joy of my life."

Also at the conference, Butler opened up about the most challenging part of playing the title character in the Baz Luhrmann-directed film. "When I first started, I put these unrealistic expectations on myself that somehow, if I worked hard enough, I could make my face identical to Elvis' face. And that my eyes would look exactly like Elvis' eyes and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference."

Later on, however, the actor realized what was actually most effective: "At a certain point that becomes like going to the wax museum, and what is really important is that his soul comes out."

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS
Warner Bros. Pictures

"I would watch Milton Berle 'Hound Dog,' I watched one second of this clip over and over and over, looking at what his eyes were doing and the angle of his head, what his hand was doing and try to find it exactly and practice that until it was in my marrow," Butler said. "And then the tricky thing is being able to be there on the day and have it feel like it's happening for the first time and that it's spontaneous."

Butler admitted, "It's like spinning plates, because you want to go back to the specifics. And so it was this constant back and forth."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

"Someone asked me yesterday, 'Did you watch playback when you were filming?' I said there were certain moments like, watching 'Hound Dog,' we did one take and I went back and I watched it, and I thought, 'I'm doing too much,' so then you strip it back, strip it back and try to get to the point where you have to get through the nerves of it and just feel alive."

Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros.

"I've lived him now for three years, so the feeling of doing him justice, justice to his legacy and really bring life to this extraordinary man, and to make Lisa Marie [Presley] and Priscilla [Presley] and Riley [Keough] and the entire family proud, I cannot be more overjoyed, and I just feel over the moon about that."

Speaking of the rockstar's granddaughter Keough, 32, Butler received her stamp of approval earlier this week after she saw the movie for the first time. "It wasn't like I distrusted Baz in any way, but you're protective over your family," she said at the Variety Women in Motion panel during the Cannes Film Festival.

She also shared that she was "emotional immediately," from the very beginning of the film, which is premiering at Cannes: "I started crying 5 minutes in and didn't stop."

"There's a lot of family trauma and generational trauma that started around then for our family," Keough continued. "I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully."

Elvis opens in theaters June 24.

Related Articles