Austin Butler hasn’t directly thanked his ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens for inspiring him to play the late King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. But he’s been clear that she influenced the career-making decision that led him to star in Baz Luhrmann‘s epic biopic Elvis. “I was with my partner at the time [she inspired me]” he told the Los Angeles Times, per Us Weekly, after being nominated for an Oscar in January 2023. “We’d been together for so long and she had this sort of clairvoyant moment and so I really — I owe her a lot for believing in me.”
The incident Austin referred to has been mentioned before — by both Austin, 31, and Vanessa, 34. During a January roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter, he related how it all came about. “The month before I heard that Baz was making the movie, I was going to look at Christmas lights with a friend, and there was an Elvis Christmas song on the radio and I was singing along, and my friend looked over at me and goes, ‘You’ve got to play Elvis.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s such a long shot.’”
“A couple of weeks later, I was playing the piano,” he continued. “I never really sang for any of my friends or anything. That same friend was there and I was playing the piano. She said, ‘I’m serious. You gotta figure out how you can get the rights to a script.’ Then my agent called and said, ‘So Baz Luhrmann is making an Elvis film.’”
Vanessa corroborated the story on a 2019 appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan. It would prove to be just months before their breakup in early 2020. “Last December, we were driving along and we were listening to Christmas music, and then an Elvis Presley Christmas song came on,” she told the hosts. “He had just dyed his hair dark. He’s a natural blond, and I was looking at him and he was singing along and I was like, ‘Babe, you need to play Elvis.’”
Wise of Austin to take the advice. He has since received an avalanche of critical acclaim for the role, most recently winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor In A Motion Picture (Drama) on January 10. Poignantly, Elvis’s daughter, the late Lisa Marie Presley and her mother, Priscilla Presley, were in attendance and visibly touched by Austin’s win.
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