Preparing For Elvis Really Improved Austin Butler's Singing Voice

Elvis Presley had many unique characteristics, including his good looks, his flashy outfits, and his gyrating hips, but his voice is undoubtedly his most distinctive attribute. On stage, he had a powerful sound that enthralled crowds for decades, and his speaking voice oozed a southern drawl and an undeniable charm. Elvis is probably the most widely impersonated celebrity ever, but very few of those imitators perfect the sound of Presley's voice.

Austin Butler will portray Elvis in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming biopic "Elvis," which will hit theaters on June 24, 2022. Although the film has yet to be released, Butler has already made waves with his spot-on portrayal of Presley's iconic voice in the trailer. The young actor is most widely known for appearing in Disney's "Zoey 101," and "The Wizards of Waverly Place," but that may change after audiences catch a glimpse of him as The King.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Butler discussed how he learned to talk and sing like The King.

Every word and every diphthong

Butler knew he had to master Presley's voice for his portrayal to succeed, so the California native spent a lot of time studying the rock star's voice. He scoured the internet for archived footage of Elvis and studied the details of his voice:

"I'd hear him say a certain word and I would clip just that bit out so I knew how he said that word. I created my own archive of how he said every word and every diphthong, and the way that he used musicality in his voice."

A diphthong is the sound made when two vowels are combined in a single syllable, like the two vowels at the end of boy or toy. The way Elvis tackles these sounds results in his iconic southern drawl, which Butler knew he had to perfect. Obviously, the internet couldn't teach him everything, so Butler also worked with dialect coaches:

"I would take an interview or a speech that he had on stage where he is talking to the audience, and I would practice it as though I was trying to get it to be exact. That way, I couldn't hear a difference between my voice and his. Then I would have my dialect coach there going, 'This is off a little bit,' and I'd practice. I'd just keep honing it in until I could get as specific as possible."

Butler immersed himself in the sounds of The King. He practiced Presley's voice during the day and even listened to a tape of Elvis speaking as he slept. If having to mimic Elvis' speaking voice isn't intimidating enough, Butler also had to learn to sing like The King of Rock and Roll.

Becoming the music

Butler has sung and played guitar since he was 13, which he usually keeps "a private thing," but that was before he was cast as Elvis. In the film, Butler sings all of Elvis' early hits, and he wanted the performances to be as perfect as he could get them.

"I knew that the singing aspect of [the role] was going to be something I really wanted to give everything I had to."

The actor practiced singing every day and, with the help of vocal coaches, his singing abilities improved, but it takes more than that to sound like Elvis Presley.

"It is really like a muscle. Through filming, I started noticing notes that I couldn't hit in the beginning, suddenly, now I could hit those notes. I was widening my range. But it's not just singing — you're having to find vocal mannerisms. That could be a little tricky."

Initially, Butler spent months rehearsing to a recording of Elvis' "That's Alright (Mama)," but the actor felt his performance was "corny" and "fake" during shooting, so Luhrmann tried something new. The director told the band to play the notes of the song incorrectly and allowed Butler to adjust the sound to his own liking. According to Luhrmann, this is the way Elvis worked with his band:

"Elvis singing the lines, being the conductor, being the music. Elvis became the music. That's how he created. He was the music."

Luhrmann isn't known for subtlety, so "Elvis" is sure to overflow with rhinestones, leather, and the sound of Elvis Presley.

"Elvis" will be released in theaters June 24, 2022.