After becoming an international superstar following his breakout role in Elvis, Austin Butler has been named Total Film's Man of the Year. But getting to this point took a long time – 20 years of working hard and praying dreams would turn into reality.
"It’s been such a ride, I’ve had a lot of dreams come true," he tells Total Film. "I’ve been working as an actor since I was 12, and hoping to do certain types of work, and work with certain people. But you never know what the outcome’s going to be. And it’s so scary. I really had moments [making Elvis] where I thought, ‘If this doesn’t go well, I’ll be laughed out of a job."
Though he jokes about being a rookie, he’s clearly a pro considering the heat-seeking focus he detonated to reinvent himself from the heart-throb of The Carrie Diaries, MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, and various Nickelodeon shows. "There’s definitely been a lot of times in my career where I would question if acting was the career for me. Because the taste that I had for Raging Bull and On The Waterfront... and then going and doing something that I feel is so far below the quality of the thing that I care about – that’s what drove me to go, ‘How can I get better?’"
For Butler, Elvis offered a "terrifying" challenge that woke him daily at 3am in panic and saw him immerse himself so fully that the line between the two men sometimes blurred. "It really felt like sitting at the base of Everest, and going, ‘This seems nearly impossible, and it may kill me, but I know that I have to try. And if I try, no matter what, I’m going to be a changed person when I come out of that experience."
He hasn’t slowed down since, admitting that he’s almost forgotten what his own house looks like or what it feels like to sleep in his own bed thanks to the meaty roles he’s now globetrotting to play. We talked when Butler had arrived in London from Dune: Part Two night shoots in Budapest and before he jetted off to Ohio to star in Jeff Nichols' The Bikeriders.
"Any time that your peers say, ‘Hey, you did a good job,' that feels nice, of course," he smiles of the Oscars buzz surrounding Elvis. "But I really try to keep my head straight, and not to focus on that being the goal, because then it takes away from the focus on the work. If you want it too much, then it becomes about that. It’s just always got to be about the work, and about the process."
For more on Austin Butler and Elvis, pick up a copy of Total Film's 2023 Preview issue, fronted by Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. The magazine is available now in shops and on digital newsstands. And the print version of this new issue comes with a special 52-page supplement counting down the best films, must-see moments, and breakout stars of 2022.
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