‘Elvis’ Movie’s Baz Luhrmann on Austin Butler’s Voice and 2023 Oscars – The Hollywood Reporter
Written by on January 25, 2023
Elvis exceeded many pundits’ expectations when it racked up eight 2023 Oscar nominations Tuesday morning, including for best picture, best actor, production and costume design, makeup and hairstyling, cinematography, sound and editing. That’s largely thanks to the film’s director and mastermind, Baz Luhrmann, and his longtime creative partner: his wife, triple-nominated production and costume designer (and producer) Catherine Martin.
Luhrmann is now twice Oscar-nominated, both for best picture nods for Elvis and Moulin Rouge! Martin, meanwhile, has already won four trophies: Oscars for art direction and costume design on Moulin Rouge! and production and costume design on The Great Gatsby, with five further noms to her name (three for Elvis, one for Romeo + Juliet, and one for Australia).
Speaking with the power couple on nominations morning from an anniversary trip they’d taken overseas, The Hollywood Reporter chatted with Luhrmann and Martin about bringing the story of Elvis and Priscilla Presley to life, what it was like working with the newly Oscar-nominated Austin Butler, grappling with the Presley family legacy, and their thoughts on the upcoming Sofia Coppola film Priscilla.
I’m curious what’s going through both of your heads and how you’re celebrating in your household this morning?
Baz Luhrmann: I’ll give you the inside scoop: We’re actually in Paris because it’s our wedding anniversary and Catherine’s birthday. Celebrating them powers. So, it’s all a nice confluence of things.
Catherine Martin: We both are just so thrilled.
Luhrmann: We really are. “We” is our favorite word. It’s awesome, about the miracle of Austin Butler. When Denzel Washington called me and said, “You’re about to see an actor whose work ethic is like no other,” he was not wrong. But for all our collaborators, some of whom have worked with us for 30 years, some new ones, the collaboration part of it, the ones that you don’t hear about, our editors. [Cinematographer] Mandy Walker—
Martin: We were going crazy. Her nomination is 90 years in the making, she’s the third woman ever to be nominated for cinematography, so it’s just incredible. And we are so proud. It’s so deserved. Her work is so extraordinary in the movie. She’s such a creative talent, and a really nice human being, and funny to boot. It’s just great to share these accolades with the wider team. It feels meaningful, because so many people put their hearts and souls into this. And, you know, their names aren’t necessarily up in light, but they get to share in the fact that they worked on an Oscar-nominated movie. I work with a very big female team, and I share the nomination for production design with Karen Murphy and with Bev Dunn and the best picture nom, we share that with Gail Berman. So it’s just great to see these wonderful women being recognized for their contributions to this movie.
You mentioned Austin Butler — he’s incredible in the film. People are making a big fuss about him staying in this voice after immersing himself in this character. I was curious about your takes on that.
Luhrmann: The thing about Aus — there has been no, in my experience, actual acting journey like the one that Austin went on. I mean, let’s forget the almost inexplicable reality that he lost his mother the same year that Elvis did. The whole journey, this tape that was sent to me, where there was a boy, in tears, playing music, singing a song. Then when the film goes away, I have to tell him, after the shutdown because of COVID, he refused to leave, and doubled down on his work. Now his absorption of the character, and commitment to it, was so great, that when we explained it to Priscilla, she was worried [at first]. She said she didn’t believe anyone could do it — how could that guy do it? [But then] the whole family, we all embraced him, almost like he was part of the family.
I think that you’ve got to understand just how deep the journey has been for him. It’s a role of a lifetime that he gave his life to, he really gave it all for such a long time. And actually the voice — I mean, people’s voices do change. I’ve never known him actually not to speak in the way [he did] in that time. When he first came in, he already had quite a deep tone of voice. Surely he had to inhabit another character completely. But it’s just a measure of how much physical change — I mean, his body changed, physically, just from training to do all that.
I’ll tell you a funny story: when he came in, it was about six weeks later that I said to someone, “What part of the South is Austin actually from?” And they said, “Oh, no, he’s from Anaheim.” He was already obsessively practicing changing the muscles in his mouth. To produce a sound that was the Elvis voice, really.
I’m also curious what both of your feelings are regarding how this movie celebrates Elvis for perhaps a new generation who might be less familiar with his work?
Luhrmann: Honestly, our biggest fan base is like 16- to 17-year-olds who’d never heard of Elvis and didn’t care about him. But, now they do. And I think that being part of reinstating the legacy to its rightful place, that journey has been a privilege. A very special and unique one, and a very personal one.
You mentioned female filmmakers, and I wanted to ask about the Sofia Coppola project about Priscilla, if you’re looking forward to seeing that?
Luhrmann: I know Sofia really well, and I just think it shows that Elvis and Priscilla are a kind of American royalty, that were — I wouldn’t say banished, but I think it just shows that… Elvis and Priscilla are back in the culture. Not just popular culture, but, I think, in American industry. I did the story of Elvis to explore America in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. I think their lives are really woven into the fabric of the American story. And I’m really looking forward to what part of the story is told.
Interview edited for clarity.