Austin Butler is featured on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue. The cover also stars Selena Gomez Florence Pugh, Ana de Armas, Jonathan Majors, Keke Palmer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Julia Garner, Regé-Jean Page, Emma Corrin, Hoyeon and Jeremy Allen White. You can find photos from the photoshoot in the gallery. Below is Austin’s interview and a video he did for how to create a paper rose.
After more than a decade toiling as a child star and then teen-TV eye candy, Austin Butler leveled up dramatically with the title role in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic fantasia Elvis. The best-actor contender, who appears on our 2023 Hollywood cover, has a busy dance card, including the upcoming Apple TV+ series Masters of the Air and Dune: Part Two.
Vanity Fair: When you run into Selena Gomez or someone else you came up with, is there this moment of, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe we’re here now”?
Austin Butler: Yeah. When I was filming Elvis, Selena found this photograph of the two of us when I did a guest-star thing on her show Wizards of Waverly Place. And she sends it to me, just going, “Wow, remember this?” It feels like another life. When you’re a child actor, you see so many people come in from Texas or something, and at a certain point they may quit or go back. We’re just so fortunate to have careers in this industry for this amount of time.
Do you remember when you started on auditions as a teenager, what you thought your career would be like?
From the very beginning, when I first got on set, it was just a neat thing that I could do as a 12-year-old kid. Then once I started going to acting class and realized there’s a craft behind it—that sort of became this addiction for me. Addiction might be a strong word, but obsession with finding honesty, really.
I started looking at a lot of different people’s careers. And Leo, when I was about 15, became that guy, because he’d made that transition. Every film that he chose, you could see the level of passion that he still had for the work. And that’s been a surreal thing, looking back at what my dreams were when I was 15, and then getting to work with the people that he got to work with, getting to be on set with him. There’s a lot of these pinch-me moments in my life and that’s definitely one of them.
Yeah, he did. He said, “I think that it’s probably very healthy that this is happening now that you’re in your 30s.” I remember being younger, being 16 or something, and comparing myself to what I saw in Leo’s career when he was 19 or something, going from Gilbert Grape and Basketball Diaries and then Titanic. I was 20 and I was looking back and going, “Oh, no, my dreams are never going to come true in the same way.”
I mean, I had times where I just thought, Oh, maybe it’ll never happen or I’ll never get those opportunities. But now, in retrospect, I can look back and go, if I had some film that hit really big when I was younger, I wouldn’t have had to keep going back to the drawing board and saying, “How do you get better at this?”
You’re not on social media, and you look up to legends like Paul Newman and James Dean. Do you have meetings with people who try to tell you how to market yourself and make yourself a brand?
I’ve definitely had that conversation come up before—and especially when you’re marketing a film or you’re marketing a TV show or something like that. I always get a little bit bashful about it and kind of try to avoid it. But they’re very sweet and I trust them. So I end up just trying to have fun with it.
But now we don’t really have those conversations. When Paul Newman was acting, he was always 40 feet tall. We didn’t see a ton of him just outside of that big screen, and there’s something really special about that. We can’t have it quite the same way now, but I also want to be able to play a variety of different people and different roles. And so I don’t want a lot of my personal life to be skewing people’s thoughts about who I am.
Elvis had a rough experience in Hollywood. Has it made you think differently about the industry?
I think it’s definitely made me consider who I ask for advice and who I keep close to me. Playing Elvis also just made me think about the fact that you can have seemingly everything and yet still feel empty. You can have all your dreams come true and still be searching for something deeper and feel very alone. You experience a ton of public love, then you’re back in a silent room.
Did you experience that with the response to Elvis at Cannes or somewhere else?
I didn’t feel it there. I felt elated that whole Cannes trip. I definitely had times during the press tour where I’d get home and you’re exhausted and you have to figure out how you manage your own energy. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve just been working. Working is very humbling. You’re only as good as you are in that scene.