Austin Butler’s ‘Elvis’ Audition Tape Caught Director Baz Luhrmann’s Attention: ‘Was He Having a Breakdown?’

Several actors have played Elvis Presley on the screen, but Austin Butler is the first to receive Lisa Marie Presley’s stamp of approval. It’s the role of a lifetime for Butler, who spent years preparing himself to nail his portrayal of The King. Butler pressed himself so hard to play the part that Elvis director Baz Luhrmann wondered if the young actor’s audition captured a breakdown.

Baz Luhrmann (left) and Austin Butler at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Butler's 'Elvis' bathrobe audition tape led director Luhrmann to wonder if the actor was having a breakdown.
Elvis director Baz Luhrmann (left) and star Austin Butler | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

‘Elvis’ hits theaters June 24 and covers Presley’s life

With a runtime of nearly 2 hours, 40 minutes, Lurhmann’s in-depth look at Presley’s personal life and professional successes might be the most in-depth of all Elvis movies. It explores Presley’s life, emphasizing his complicated relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

The story spans Presley’s rise to fame and sustained stardom amid a changing musical and cultural landscape. If Butler’s Tom Cruise-beating Cannes ovation is any indication, he nailed the role. But it wasn’t easy.

Butler and Presley shared the same affinity for a 1950s cultural icon, but that’s not all they have in common. Another similarity between the two led Butler to audition for the role in a bathrobe, which made Luhrmann wonder if the young star was auditioning or having a breakdown.

RELATED: Austin Butler Generates Same Hysteria as pre-‘Titanic’ Leonardo DiCaprio Says ‘Elvis’ Director 

Austin Butler had a nightmare, cut an audition tape in a bathrobe, and made Luhrmann wonder if he was having a breakdown

Before donning any jumpsuits or blue suede shoes, Butler had to audition for the part of Elvis. And he made two different audition tapes, the second of which made Luhrmann wonder if Butler was having a breakdown. 

Both Elvis and Butler painfully lost their mothers in their early 20s. Butler recorded himself performing “Love Me Tender,” but he made a new video a few days later. He had a nightmare that his mother was dying again, and he channeled his grief into making a new audition tape, per IMDb:

“Overwhelmed with grief, he decided to pour his emotion into music. Thinking of the lyrics to ‘Unchained Melody,’ he remembered, ‘I always take it for granted that that’s to a romantic partner, [but] what if I sing that to my mom?’ He sat down at the piano in his bathrobe and filmed it. The video immediately caught director Baz Luhrmann’s attention, as he was both confused and intrigued. ‘Was it an audition? Or was he having a breakdown?’”

Once Luhrmann met with Butler after seeing the audition tape, the young actor took a huge step toward winning the part.

Butler couldn’t shake off Elvis after shooting wrapped, but he eventually moved on to new roles

We know Butler has new projects in the works, but he spent so much time prepping for and playing Elvis that he found it challenging to move on.

Butler revealed to GQ Magazine that playing Elvis Presley deeply and profoundly impacted him because he invested so much in getting it right.

“I was only reading everything to do with Elvis. I was only listening to Elvis. It was Elvis’ influences and Elvis himself and nothing else,” he said. He even spent time in the hospital with a viral infection the day after he walked off set since he pushed himself so hard to perfectly play the part.

Butler’s follow-up project is the TV miniseries Masters of the Air, about a crew of a World War Two bomber. According to his IMDb page, he’s set to join the cast of Dune: Part 2 as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. Hopefully for Butler, playing a fictional villain in Dune doesn’t lead to anything resembling a breakdown the way Elvis did.

For more on the entertainment world and exclusive interviews, subscribe to Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s YouTube channel.

RELATED: Elvis Presley and Austin Butler Share This Divine ‘Spiritual’ Bond Says ‘Elvis’ Director