How Denzel Washington Helped Convince Elvis Director to Cast Austin Butler as Elvis Presley


Austin Butler made sure to thank Denzel Washington for helping him land his leading role in Elvis.

At the Golden Globes 2023 on Tuesday, Butler, 31, addressed Washington, 68, directly as he accepted the award for best actor in a drama movie for director Baz Luhrmann‘s Elvis Presley biopic.

“Also, I gotta thank Denzel Washington,” the Elvis star said during his speech. “Denzel, thank you for your kindness, thank you for your generosity and championing me when you did not have to.”

“I am so grateful for all eternity to you,” Butler added.

While the Training Day actor did not appear in Elvis, nor did he work behind the camera on the biopic, the legendary actor helped Butler secure the role by giving director Luhrmann a call to advocate on Butler’s behalf. The Oscar winner appeared with Butler in a 2018 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.

In a May 2022 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Luhrmann, 60, said that Washington cold-called him shortly after he first encountered a video of Butler performing a cover of Presley’s “Unchained Melody.”

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“He found me,” the director said when asked why Butler proved to be right actor to play the rock n’ roll icon. “I received this videotape of this young man in a flood of tears playing ‘Unchained Melody,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, what is that? How is that happening?’ And then I got a call from Denzel Washington, who gave me a cold call.”

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“I did not know Denzel,” Luhrmann clarified of the call to the outlet. “And he said, ‘I’ve just worked with this guy on stage. I’ve never seen a work ethic like it,’ ”

“And I’m like, ‘Okay, I must see him.’ Honestly, I put him through the wringer, but he lived Elvis,” Luhrmann added of the performance. “What he’s managed to do is not do an impersonation, but to live Elvis, to the extent that he’s humanized him.”

Luhrmann also recalled the conversation with Washington in a panel conversation about the movie with SiriusXM in June 2022.

” ‘You’re about to meet an actor I’ve been on stage with,’ ” the director recalled of Washington’s pitch for Butler at the time. ” ‘You will not believe this young man’s work ethic, there is just no minute he won’t give to the art.’ ”

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The 80th Golden Globe Awards ceremony is airing live on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

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