Before He Becomes Elvis, Austin Butler Answers Andy Warhol’s Questions
After years as a heartthrob-for-hire on a string of teen TV shows, Austin Butler’s career took a turn for the big leagues when, earlier this year, he was cast as the main character in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis Presley biopic. Here, the 28-year-old California native, who recently appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, answers some questions that Andy Warhol posed to Matt Dillon in 1983, when the 19-year-old actor was similarly on the cusp of mega stardom.
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ANDY WARHOL: How did this happen to you? When did you start making movies?
AUSTIN BUTLER: I started acting when I was about 13 years old. I stumbled into doing extra work, so that got me onto sets in a very low-pressure way. Prior to that, I had been a very, very shy child. Being on a set with other children, there wasn’t this hierarchy,which there can be sometimes. That really taught me a lot about how I want to conduct myself in any environment. I started going to acting class and learning that there was a craft to it, and then I fell in love with it. Then it was a slow process of going through hundreds of auditions, and you only book one thing. I remember the days of being so grateful to just book one line on a TV show.
WARHOL: Did you always want to be in the movies?
BUTLER: I didn’t realize it was a possibility, but I think I felt most free when I was playing pretend. I would watch a movie, and then I would put on the clothes that I could find that were most similar to a character I liked. I would get really dressed up to then destroy myself in some way in an action scene. I look at my job now and—I mean, in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, they paid for my horse lessons. I got to train four hours a day for months. Now people are putting these incredible costumes on me, but it’s just a very elaborate version of what I was doing as a child.
WARHOL: Of all the films you’ve made, do you have a particular favorite?
BUTLER: I think it’s very hard. I asked Denzel [Washington] this question, and he said his answer is always “the next one,” so that’s kind of my thing right now.
WARHOL: What kind of roles are you after now?
BUTLER: Anything that scares me and challenges me and causes me to have to dig in to parts of myself that maybe I would not otherwise.
WARHOL: Do you go to the movies often?
BUTLER: As much as I can. That’s one of my favorite pastimes.
WARHOL: Do you want to stay away from romantic leads?
BUTLER: There was a point where, in an effort to be thought of as, for lack of a better word, serious, I thought maybe that would have been the way to go. But lately when I think about things that really touch my heart, love is the most important one. I don’t think that I’m really trying to stay away from that. Some of my favorite movies are romantic, like The Notebook. I absolutely love that film. It breaks my heart every time.
WARHOL: Have you taken any time off?
BUTLER: I went to Sardinia recently and that was very rejuvenating.
WARHOL: Are you in love with anyone right now?
BUTLER: Yes, I am.
WARHOL: Do you keep the relationship quiet?
BUTLER: Yes, I do.
WARHOL: Is it hard being separated when you’re shooting on location?
BUTLER: Yes, it is, but there’s beauty in it as well, because the old cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is really true. It’s a cliché for a reason. And thank god for the technology we have these days. FaceTime dates help for sure.
WARHOL: When you fall in love, do you fall really hard?
BUTLER: I do.
WARHOL: Have you ever had your heartbroken?
BUTLER: I have.
WARHOL: Do you have trouble finding scripts you like?
BUTLER: Not recently.
WARHOL: Who are your favorite authors?
BUTLER: J.D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler. Jack Gilbert is one of my favorite poets.
WARHOL: What do you do in your spare time?
BUTLER: I like to play music. Spending time with my dog is key—and, of course, my family and friends. That’s always the place I go for peace.
WARHOL: What kind of dog do you have?
BUTLER: I’ve got a little terrier rescue; we don’t quite know what she is. My mom actually rescued her off of a woman’s balcony. This person wouldn’t feed her all day, so my mom started feeding her and then eventually found out where the woman’s door was and started pestering her, saying, “Can I just watch your dog during the day?” Eventually she let my mom babysit her during the day. Then I inherited her from my mom.
WARHOL: What places do you want to visit?
BUTLER: I’ve really been wanting to go to Morocco and Japan. And Iceland.
WARHOL: How do you create the feeling of anger or despair when you act?
BUTLER: I’m always looking for what triggers me in real life and in imaginary circumstances, and just finding ways of tapping that as authentically as possible.
WARHOL: Who are your favorite actors?
BUTLER: Mark Rylance, Benicio Del Toro, Philip Seymour Hoffman—I have so many.
WARHOL: Do you sing?
BUTLER: A little bit. I’m singing a lot more lately than I have been in the past.
WARHOL: Do you play an instrument?
BUTLER: I play the guitar and I play the piano, and my first instrument was the violin. I started playing the violin when I was in elementary school. I got a guitar when I was 13 and fell in love. I would play for eight hours a day and that became my obsession.
WARHOL: Do you want to be a rock star?
BUTLER: …Who wouldn’t.
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Hair: Thom Priano using R+Co Haircare.
Production: Mary-Clancey Pace at Hen’s Tooth Production and Eric Jacobson
Digital Technician: Travis Drennan.
Photography Assistant: Phoebe Pritchett.
Fashion Assistants: Malaika Crawford, Dominic Dopico and Jordan Mixon.