Film Editor James Evenden comments on Austin Butler’s continued use of his Elvis voice
I do not think I have gone more than a couple of days without seeing Austin Butler on my phone, as he makes the rounds for awards season following his star-making turn as Elvis. Butler is older than the likes of Chalamet, Pugh or Zendaya, but it feels like his career has really begun following his Golden Globe winning and Oscar-nominated performance. Whilst I am glad that there is seemingly a new name to add to the growing repertoire of the next budding generation of talent, Butler has already set his foot in the treacherous waters of method acting, with his continued use of his Elvis voice long after filming. The use of the voice has added a unique piece to the conversation that has long engulfed the profession: method acting and how far some will take it for their craft.
To me, the main reason that people have taken issue with it and made fun of him is that the use of the Elvis voice comes across as pandering in the middle of awards season. I can see the relevance of this argument, but do think it has gone too far. We all know that the race for the Oscar is a long and hard one, paved with countless media stops as they try to win the hearts of the people and the voters. The awards season run is all about creating an angle that sets you apart from the other nominees. This year, sympathy seems to be the name of the game. Brendan Fraser has played into the long-lost actor storyline, and Ke Huy Quan has done the same. This is all an accepted part of the race, and I do not judge either of these talented actors for playing the game they need to play. The internet has fallen over themselves to throw praise on these two, me included. Give the people a storyline, and the battle is half won.
Austin Butler has created his own angle for the awards season. He has positioned himself as a shy kid whose deceased mother did everything to bring him out of his shell. To be fair to him, it’s an effective angle, using the sweetheart country-boy aesthetic to seem as down-to-earth as possible. The use of the voice is assumedly part of the same thinking, and whilst I have no idea whether it is genuine or an affectation, I think the viral reaction has been far too extreme in the context of method acting, and the Oscars race.
First of all, I argue that Butler is playing the same game that every front-runner plays, much like Fraser and Quan, he is simply using different tactics. Whilst I admit the use of the voice is distracting, it is hardly the most offensive thing an actor has done in the name of method acting. Some of our finest performers of the current generation: Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis notably, have reportedly gone to further extremes. The difference is that they are both known private figures, who do not let their method acting bleed over into the celebrity side of acting. Both Bale and Day-Lewis come from a generation that used different methods to promote their films around Oscar season. All they had to do to was the basic interview. Now, actors like Butler are thrust into the Tik-Tok generation of young people who have the loudest voices online and have to use more viral methods of promoting themselves and keeping their names out there.
All of this means actors like Butler have to employ unique methods of method acting to grab the attention of the generation that arguably matters most: gen-z. Butler’s voice is just enough to make him stand out in the public sphere without coming across as too annoying for him to become dislikeable. Method acting is built around the sensational and the extreme, but if you put that extreme into the realm of our generation, it generates the buzz and hype necessary to sustain an awards season push.
Austin Butler’s use of the Elvis voice is, in my opinion, one of the smartest things he could have done leading up to the Oscars. It keeps him relevant, compared to those like Colin Farrell who has kind of faded into the background of the race, despite also winning a Golden Globe. If Butler is questioned on it, he can lean back into the shy and sweet country-bumpkin persona that has given him great success along the road to that coveted Oscar. The voice is a distraction, but if you are busy looking at him and not the other nominees, then he is doing something right. I can’t decide on who I think will win that Best Actor trophy, but if it is Butler, I think that the smooth tones of the King of Rock and Roll will have played a large part in his victory.
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