Austin Butler’s most transformative ‘Elvis’ moments – including when he sings these Elvis songs

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

This article talks about specific scenes in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis made its theatrical debut on June 24, and audiences have yet to stop raving about the film. The lead-up to the premiere included a Cannes Festival premiere, several interviews with the cast and crew, and well-deserved respect and praise for Austin Butler.

Taking on the role of Elvis Presley was no easy feat; in fact, Butler dedicated years of his life to perfecting the part. Butler recently shared that before his audition, he spent five months of his life with Luhrmann, studying for a role he wasn’t even sure he’d get. That was just the beginning of the care and compassion Butler would use for his role as Presley after Luhrmann asked him this vital question:

“Are you ready to fly, Mr. Presley?”

Calling Butler Mr. Presley when he told him he’d been cast in the role was a multifaceted move. Yes, it was a signal of congratulations, but it was also a nod to Butler’s road to becoming Elvis Presley. He completely embodied the icon, living and breathing all things Elvis and the heartbreaking story of his life.

Through his journey, Butler learned that the two had a heartbreaking connection and several other essential pieces of the puzzle. In Luhrmann’s film, Butler brings Presley to life in a way no one else could — most importantly, in a way that honors him.

As audiences pour in and out of theaters to see Elvis, they see a physical, mental, and emotional transformation — and the performance of a lifetime. There are laughs, tears, and memories to be made when you sit in the theater and several moments where you almost forget that Butler isn’t Presley himself.

It’s not just the look of Presley or the essence of the man — it’s in the voice and the song. Butler begins where Presley ends, and it almost feels impossible to put the entire thing into words.

On the topic of words, it’s important to note that Butler used his voice to sing the songs in Elvis. That’s right — it’s been revealed that Butler’s voice is what you actually hear when you sit down in theaters.

In a post on Instagram, Luhrmann shared the following sentiments about Butler’s singing.

“I feel I haven’t been clear enough in conveying that Austin sings all of the young Elvis in the movie, so forgive me. I thought you might find this very early camera (2019) test fascinating as Austin and the guys are just jamming while we test our lenses. Even before his two years of vocal studies I feel that Austin is channeling the vocal qualities of Elvis. Thank you @austinbutler for letting me share this early test to give the fans an insight into your journey.”

Butler is transformative in the film, and he acted in some of Presley’s best moments with grace and emotion as he sang with power and grit. Here are some of the most iconic moments in Elvis, the ones where it was hard to remember that we didn’t see Presley himself on screen.

The iconic “Trouble” performance

Presley had a life-altering decision to make when he took the stage during an exceptional performance to sing the infamous fan favorite, “Trouble.” His life and career had taken off, and fans around the globe began to catch the “Presley fever,” but some people weren’t as spellbound by his hip thrusts and lip curls. As a matter of fact, police wanted to investigate Presley for the way he moved, and he was coached to present a different version of himself at his next on-stage event.

Colonel Tom Parker suggested a new Elvis, adorned in a suit with coattails and no flare; it was unlike the Presley that fans loved, and the decision was a heavy one for the icon. Should he chase his dreams and continue to sing, dance, and gyrate about, or should he play the part that would keep him from getting into trouble?

Ironically, while singing “Trouble”, Presley chose to be true to himself and promised the crowd that he’d show them what the honest Elvis was like, before breaking out into song and dance that caused the audience to storm the stage. Fans went wild for Presley’s hips, voice, and stage presence, and a barrier was broken, both literally and figuratively.

A rope section no longer separated Presley’s fans by color; everyone ran towards the front, dancing and singing along. What should have been a moment to unite everyone was used to stop everything. Presley was forced from the stage and placed in the back of a police car while his audience was pushed away from the scene. It was a moment that changed everything, a moment that gave him a taste of the freedom he’d find in being true to himself.

It’s almost like fans are given video footage of Presley when it all happened, as Butler so perfectly takes on the role and the responsibility of that decision.

When Presley’s mom passes away

Butler spoke in an interview about the moment he realized that a heartbreaking truth connected himself and Presley on a deep level — the iconic performers both lost their mothers when they were just 23 years old, breaking their hearts.

Presley carries the weight of his mother’s death with him throughout his entire life, and there’s a moment soon after he learns that she passed away, and he breaks down completely. Presley was in the military when she died, so he was granted emergency leave to return home, and he broke down in a very vulnerable moment.

We won’t give too much detail away, as it’s an important scene for Butler that deserves to be experienced, but the distraught heartache on his face and the words he speaks are as authentic as they come. The loss of the most integral person in both of their lives shifted everything, and Butler isn’t acting as he mourns the loss. He’s channeling the loss of his own mother and what Presley must have felt when he lost his, too.

Presley’s mom was his biggest fan, supporter, and protector — and his biggest dream was to support his family and take care of his mom. This is another performance where you don’t quite know where Presley ends and Butler begins; it’s a moment that heart-achingly opens our eyes to the man behind the myth.

Singing “Suspicious Minds”

“Suspicious Minds” is one of Presley’s most emotional songs and one of the best performances in the film, and one that’s been in our heads since the trailer first premiered. It’s the first song we hear Butler sing as Presley, the lyrics carrying us through the beginning of the trailer.

As we hear Parker talk about Presley’s transformation into a superhero, we witness it, and the song sums up Presley’s existence without him even realizing it. Variety shared a detailed look at who is responsible for singing what in the Elvis movie, and both Butler and Presley are credited with this one. Luhrmann states that some of Butler’s performances as the older Elvis blend Presley’s voice with Butler’s, enhancing the storytelling and the experience for fans who have loved the legend for years.

It might be that we’ve always been a big fan of the song, but this is one of the performances in the film that completely wowed us, another one that blurs the lines between Butler and Presley.

Saying goodbye to Priscilla

Presley says several heartwrenching goodbyes throughout the series, two of which are with his wife, Priscilla. The first time, she tells Presley that she’s leaving him, and he’s stuck in the place between slumber and waking where nothing is really making a whole lot of sense. As he realizes what is happening, we see a broken Presley trying to stop her from walking out the door, but they both understand that it’s been a long time coming.

It’s not the women and the fans that break Priscilla — it’s the lack of time with her husband, their daughter, and his drug dependency. Priscilla wanted to be his wife, and Presley kept thinking he needed to buy her more things and provide her with more gifts. The moment they share during their first goodbye is heartbreaking, especially as he promises her that they’ll be back together when he turns 50. It’s an age Presley will never reach.

Their second goodbye is more heartwrenching, somehow. Presley and Priscilla met after their daughter, Lisa Marie, spent some time with her dad. Lisa Marie exits the car, and Priscilla climbs in. Sitting next to the man she still loves, she holds his hand and asks him to get help; she says this time, she’s set it all up for him, and all he has to do is show up. He can get treatment for his dependencies, and maybe they’ll even make his wish come true.

The two hold hands as he looks out the window, never making eye contact with her during her plea. Butler’s performance here takes us through an intimate look at Presley’s heartache and how even that wasn’t strong enough to break the pull of dependency. He just wanted to make it, so much so that he didn’t realize he was falling apart at the seams.

The heartbreaking “Are You Lonesome Tonight” moment

This is another moment in the film that is so vulnerable and tender that we won’t give away too much detail, but the moment it happens, you’ll be able to feel it physically. Presley reaches a point in his life where he is lonely despite never really being alone. A quick phone call could get the right doctor or woman to his doorstep; Parker and his father are never too far removed from his space, yet he is a broken man.

“Are You Lonesome Tonight” is a song that touches the lonely, it sings directly to your heart, and as Butler plays a lonesome Presley, we forget that it’s not an insider’s look into an authentic moment with the king of rock and roll. It’s quiet, it’s for himself — and maybe for Priscilla too — and it’s played with Presley is in no company but his own.

Having the world at your feet but being trapped in a palace might not seem like such a bad deal to some; at least you’ve got everything you’d ever need, right? That’s the belief that Presley had, that he’d be fulfilled once he had it all. In this heartbreaking song number, the audience sees Presley realize what we’d known all along; it’s not about what you have — it’s about who you love and who loves you back.

Learning about Parker’s ultimate betrayal

In another important scene of Elvis, Presley learns about his betrayal by those closest to him — namely Colonel Tom Parker. It was something he’d been made privy to for some time. He was told that Parker was practically holding him hostage for selfish reasons, and as he uncovered more about the man he’d trusted with his life, he began to almost disappear within himself. 

Presley had given it all to Parker, and he was met with betrayal and an absence of concern and care. His heart shattered as he learned that Parker wasn’t the only one to use him, and when he found out more about the loss of money and his inability to be free, we saw his final spiral.

Presley felt that he’d lost it all, and he didn’t have anything else to fight for; he didn’t have much left to fight with. We see Presley’s last performance, and as he sings his heart out, it appears that he’s not much but the shell of the man he was before.

It was in that moment that it truly hit home, the pain that Presley had endured and how a bright-eyed kid turned into a money-making opportunity for those who only saw dollar signs when they looked at him. He was no longer Elvis Presley, the man; he was Elvis Presley, the opportunity. 

Singing “That’s All Right”

Presley’s breakout performance and Butler’s turning point was the “That’s All Right” song and dance number in a pink suit. Clips of this moment were scattered through trailers and sneak peeks, so when audiences sat down to see Elvis in theaters, we knew it was important.

Presley’s journey with Colonel Tom Parker began after this performance, as he was enamored by the sound of Presley’s voice and the crowd’s reactions. That performance allowed Presley to be born where Parker was concerned, and the scene was framed in precisely the same way.

Presley became a legend on that stage, and audiences were truly allowed to welcome Butler as the man, the myth, and the legend.

Embodying Presley’s downward spiral

Butler perfected the highs of Presley’s life, but he also took us on an emotional rollercoaster as he embodied the lows. Presley had dreams and ambitions; he wanted to help his family have everything they’d ever dreamed of, buy a pink Cadillac for his mom, and show the world that his family name wasn’t tarnished. He also developed an affinity for fine things once he realized they could be his.

Presley worked hard to provide for himself and for those he loved, all while being used as a cash cow by the people who should have sought to protect him. We see Presley jump through hoops as Elvis tells it’s bright and eccentric story. He performs night after night, using medication to fall asleep and different medicines to wake up. He begins relying on his doctors to build cocktails that would allow him to function, requiring more and more as time goes on.

As Presley becomes more reliant on the medication, he becomes less himself — he’s lost in the spin of it all; the bright lights, adoring fans, and the demand for more Presley. We see his dreams stamped out for the best of Parker and “Team Presley.” We soon learn that for all the stages he graces and the residency he performs in, the hoops he jumps through, the money has run out. It’s heartbreaking enough, until Presley realizes that betrayal has come from those closest to him.

The spiral doesn’t just cost him money; it costs him the love of his life, Sunday dinners at home, the opportunity to make his own choices, and eventually, his sanity. Butler takes our hand as we walk through the pain with him, and for as much as you’d love to reach out and take it away, you’re essentially as helpless as the man himself.

Singing “Jailhouse Rock”

The hair, the sideburns, the hips, and that voice — Butler takes on the persona of Presley in every way, but there was something special about the performance of Jailhouse Rock. It was enough to make you double-take as Butler’s Presley walked on stage in his black leather, pompadour, tanned skin, and loaded smile.

Presley knew he was a heartthrob; as he got older, he wasn’t sure why people felt so strongly about his moves, but he wasn’t ignorant to the way fans reacted to him. He was stunning, in persona and in looks — and his voice made him an icon with staying power. Everyone wanted a piece of Presley, and “Jailhouse Rock” continues to be a song fans genuinely adore.

For those who never got to see Presley in concert, seeing Butler in Elvis was the next best thing, and it’s a performance so engrossing that you won’t soon forget it. As Parker says in the film, Presley transformed into the superheroes he so loved and adored, with power, talent, and an unmistakable voice.

You can get tickets to see Elvis in theaters now — and you don’t want to miss it.