Why Austin Butler’s Elvis Performance Could Win an Oscar

“In my humble opinion, [Butler’s] the acting is unprecedented and FINALLY done with precision and respect,” Lisa Marie Presley wrote on Twitter, after the film’s Cannes premiere.

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The task of representing Elvis, let alone playing Elvis for his immediate family, is monumental when you think about it. Elvis was a unique and almost otherworldly figure who redefined the boundaries of fandom and popular entertainment in the 20th century. He was the King of Rock and Roll. That comes with a phenomenal amount of pressure and expectation.

But it’s not just that. The King also inspired an entire industry of imitators and tribute artists (many of them operating while he was still alive) who were trying to capture a glimpse of his likeness and talent. And, partly because of this and partly because the mythology of pop culture is not static or fixed in time, the image of him has been distorted every year since his death.

How do you go about delivering a new performance from a man who has probably been played more than anyone else on the planet? And how do you do that in a way that’s heartfelt and touching for a generation that’s grown up largely associating it with fried peanut butter sandwiches and cheesy Vegas matinees?

Butler found a way. And, when you combine that with the Oscars’ love of biopics and method acting. (the actor strangely continues to do the voice of Elvis in press interviews)your work will likely earn you a nomination.

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I’ve talked to a lot of Elvis tribute artists in the past, both for work and pleasure, and they always say that the act of playing Elvis well comes down to two things: respect and joy. It’s about honoring his legacy (“no fat jokes,” I was once told) and keeping the magic of his performances alive.

For all its brilliance and frenzy, Elvis does just that. And through Butler’s performance (especially onstage during Elvis’s electrifying and exciting early years), that magic is strong enough to captivate people who may not have cared about Elvis before.

Sure, some critics have called the film dull or tedious. But with a 94 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Austin Butler Elvis is clearly giving moviegoers a very real understanding of what their grandmothers once shouted.

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