Filming ‘Elvis’ Took an Extreme Toll on Austin Butler’s Health: ‘My Body Had Just Started Shutting Down’

Baz Luhrmann’s epic Elvis Presley biopic, Elvis, sees Austin Butler taking on the iconic role of the “Jailhouse Rock” singer. Elvis was larger than life, so playing such a huge character was draining for Butler throughout the process of filming the movie.

Austin Butler in the movie Elvis where he plays Elvis Presley.
Austin Butler | Warner Bros. Pictures

Austin Butler plays Elvis Presley in ‘Elvis’

Austin Butler first rose to prominence as an actor in the 2000s in children’s shows including Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Hannah Montana, Zoey 101, and iCarly. He later transitioned to adult roles including Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Broadway play The Iceman Cometh.

Given how beloved Elvis Presley is as an entertainer, Butler was nervous to take on playing him in the Elvis biopic.

“When you look at Elvis as this iconic superhuman figure, it’s hard not to feel small. And so for me, my task was finding as much humanity and similarity and the realness as I could,” he told CBS Sunday Morning.

Austin Butler worked his body extremely hard to play Elvis

Butler dedicated himself fully to the role and to embodying the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll as much as he could. But he explained to Viva that after shooting wrapped, he had an identity crisis, as he couldn’t separate himself from the character of Elvis.

Butler recalled how a moment at the end of the ilast day of filming “where you’re going, ‘great job everybody, we did it,’ I went back to the trailer, and I just broke into tears. I had this sentence that was going over and over in my mind, ‘I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am.’ And that was scary.”

He woke up in the middle of the night at 4 a.m. in excruciating pain. “It felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach,” he remembered. “I went to try to stand up and I couldn’t walk.”

He was rushed to hospital that night, hooked up to an IV drip, and prepped for surgery for a burst appendix when his CAT scan came back with a diagnosis. “I had this virus that swells your lymph nodes and simulates the feeling of your appendix bursting,” he said. “My body had just started shutting down. I hadn’t rested at all in those two years.”

He emphasized that the entire time he spent filming Elvis took a toll on his body. “I woke up every day at about 3 or 4 in the morning with my heart pounding, like the feeling of when you’re going into battle,” he said. “It was just the weight of the pressure and the responsibility.”

RELATED: ‘Elvis’ Star Austin Butler Has Something Painful in Common With Elvis Presley

Austin Butler and Elvis share a ‘spiritual’ bond

In an interview with GQ, Butler explained that part of his process in taking on Elvis was drawing connections between himself and the rockstar.

“His mother passed away when he was 23, and my mom passed away when I was 23,” Butler said. “So when I learned that, it was one of those things where I got chills, and I just thought, ‘Okay, I can connect to that.’”

According to director Baz Luhrmann, Butler and Presley do indeed share a deep connection. 

“Elvis was an intensely spiritual person,” he said. “And I think Austin has a real spiritual quality to him. He has a very sensitive and big inner life. He’s very lovely on the outside, but you know there’s deep thinking going on on the inside.”

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