Before He Becomes Elvis, Austin Butler Answers Andy Warhol’s Questions

Photography Ryan McGinley
Stylist Mel Ottenberg

Published October 10, 2019

Jacket by Givenchy. Jeans (worn throughout) by Saint Laurent By Anthony Vaccarello.

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?


T-Shirt by Gucci.

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.