Austin Butler ‘Couldn’t Breathe’ When He Recreated Elvis Presley’s ‘Unchained Melody’

Elvis Presley‘s “Unchained Melody” is one of the most famous songs from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll‘s later career. Austin Butler had to recreate a live performance of the track for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. Subsequently, Butler revealed why the sequence was so challenging to film.

'Elvis' star Austin Butler wearing a white suit
‘Elvis’ star Austin Butler | Lia Toby / Contributor

Austin Butler said trying to look like Elvis Presley was ‘claustrophobic’

One of the most famous moments of the “Heartbreak Hotel” singer’s late career is a live performance of “Unchained Melody.” During the performance, Elvis is sweating and clearly struggling. Despite this, his vocals are incredible.

During a 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Butler discussed recreating that moment. “‘Unchained Melody’ was a physical challenge because it was done with the jumpsuit and the body adjustment suit under that, and it squeezes your ribs to the point where you can’t breathe,” Butler said. “I felt very claustrophobic there and very constricted, I couldn’t breathe and I was really, really hot.”

Butler discussed his feelings about Elvis’ actual performance. “If you watch that video, you’ll see that he gets half a sentence out and has to take a breath,” Butler said. “When he sings he belts it out, and it’s like you wouldn’t even know.”

Baz Luhrmann putting footage of Elvis Presley singing ‘Unchained Melody’ in the movie was controversial

Director Luhrmann discussed the original performance. “I remember seeing the video and thinking, ‘Oh, gosh. After that moment, what else is there?'” he said.

Luhrmann was met with resistance when he wanted to include part of the actual clip in his film. “There was a lot of, ‘Oh, no, we’d never do that — we don’t like seeing Elvis like that,'” he recalled.

“But the moment he looks at the camera and smiles, he’s like a kid inside when he sings,” Luhrmann added. “It makes the point of the whole movie, which is that when he’s in front of an audience, the spirit is so alive.” Ultimately, footage of Elvis singing “Unchained Melody” appears in the final cut.

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How ‘Unchained Melody’ and Baz Luhrmann’s movie performed commercially

Elvis’ “Unchained Melody” was a modest hit in the United States. It reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, staying on the chart for 11 weeks. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll released the song on his album Moody Blue. The album hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200, remaining on the chart for 31 weeks.

Meanwhile, the film Elvis was a hit too. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie earned over $31 million over its opening weekend. Thus far, Elvis has made more than $193 million across the globe.

Elvis wasn’t always an easy movie to make — but it seems to have connected with moviegoers.