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AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Culture > Entertainment

From Disney to Dune: get to know how Austin Butler bopped to the top

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

You might know him from Elvis or Dune: Part Two, but Austin Butler is more than just glamorous outfits or blade fighting. So, be prepared to know Austin’s fabulous adventure.

The early years

Austin started acting when he was about 12 years old. By then, he was just a shy kid in the city of Anaheim, California. He was even homeschooled by his mother, so that he would have more flexibility around his acting classes and jobs he’d book. 

Young Austin Butler caught the attention of producers at Disney and Nickelodeon, where he starred in teen TV shows like iCarly, Hannah Montana, Zoey 101 and Wizards of Waverly Place

In 2011, three years after High School Musical 3: Senior Year was released, announcing the end of an era for the teens who grew up dreaming about singing “It’s the start of something new” with a special someone, or who were inspired by “Breaking Free”, a more pink and glittery movie came out: Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventures. And guess who was in it!?

Butler played Peyton Leverett, a film student in New York that meets Sharpay [Evans] when she arrives in town. Then, he starts documenting her life as she tries to make her way into the big spotlights of Broadway. 

Austin’s character is the perfect example of boyfriend material. Kind, supportive, patient, and charming. Butler’s portrayal brings a sense of warmth and sincerity to Peyton, making him a perfect match for Sharpay’s larger-than-life aspirations.

He even predicted his Oscar nomination 12 years before it happened!

After Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventures, Austin participated in The Carrie Diaries – a spin-off show of Sex and the City, following the life of young Carrie Bradshaw – as Sebastian Kydd, Carrie’s love interest. He is the type we’ve all seen before, the typical bad boy with a heart of gold. 

Throughout the series, Sebastian and Carrie share a passionate – and tumultuous – relationship, navigating the ups and downs of adolescence and first love together.

Fast-forward to 2016. Austin Butler went from pink scenarios to a more mystical environment in The Shannara Chronicles. The actor plays the part of Wil Ohmsford, a young half-elf that discovers he is a descendant of the Shannara bloodline, one known for its magical powers. 

Wil is known for his bravery and courage in protecting Four Lands (a post-apocalyptic Earth) from evil forces. Throughout the only two seasons, Butler’s character comes into terms with his heritage, embracing his role as a hero and mastering his magical abilities.

The possible retirement

Following his mother’s passing in 2014, Butler took a break from acting and almost gave it up completely. He didn’t feel as if his job as an actor could help people. In an interview for Access Hollywood, he said, “After my mom passed away, it put things from a different perspective where I started to question if this was a profession that could help the world or anything”. 

But, thankfully for us, Austin abandoned the idea of retirement when he realized that movies can make an impact. As a movie fan himself, he said that he’s had experiences leaving the theater where “the world had felt more vibrant”.

Movies can help you feel, cry or laugh, he said, “that’s what I get to be a part of, and storytelling has been part of humanity since the dawn of time. I feel really honored to be a part of that sort of lineage”.

We’re so back

In his comeback, he starred in a Broadway production called The Iceman Cometh, with Denzel Washington – not too bad, right? He said during The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that he was so terrified, he memorized the whole 4-hour script before the table read, so he “could sit right next to him [Denzel] and not look at the script the whole time. I knew I had to give it everything I had”.

Butler played Don Parritt, a complex eighteen-year-old with a troubled past haunted by abandonment, which affects his choices and relations with others throughout the play. The New Yorker wrote that Austin “conveys, through economy of movement and facial expression, what many of his cast mates try to show by shouting and grandstanding: his character’s inner life”.

While Butler was still in the play, he auditioned for a role in a Quentin Tarantino’s movie. And he got it. 

Austin portrayed Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a member of the Manson Family cult. In the film, Austin’s character is one of Charles Manson’s followers who were involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders that happened in California in 1969. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was an important moment in Austin’s career because he got to work with one of his idols in filmmaking, Quentin Tarantino. He even turned down an audition for one of the biggest action movies of the decade, Top Gun: Maverick. But everything worked out great for rising star Austin Butler, who right after got the role in Elvis Presley’s biopic.

The stardom

In 2019, he booked the role that changed his life and took his career into higher places. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll. Austin impersonated Elvis to the bones. He spent three years studying and researching the artist’s personal life and career as a music star. Because of the pressure of portraying such a character, Austin had to give himself completely, diving deep into the transformation, not abandoning Presley’s voice even when director Baz Luhrmann yelled cut.

He became Elvis in body, mind and soul, studying interview after interview until he memorized it all. He learned the way he spoke, the way he sang, how he moved and gestured, maybe even the way he breathed. And all of that effort was definitely worth it: Austin won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and was even nominated for an Oscar!

Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker, gifted Austin with a typewriter. They would write each other letters impersonating their characters, as a way of diving more into their personas and exploring their relationship. Even Priscilla Presley couldn’t believe Austin’s performance, “It was more than I ever expected. He became Elvis”.

When the end was getting close, and because this role consumed everything in his life, Austin started thinking about what was next for him. He said in the Los Angeles Times that he might have sunk into a major depression “because suddenly the only thing I have done, now I don’t have”. Austin felt that coming back to his real life might feel overwhelming, so what Luhrmann and Hanks told him was that he needed to “jump right into something else”. 

That something else ended up being the Apple TV series Masters of The Air, produced by Hanks and Steven Spielberg. After three years of being Elvis Presley, Austin needed to breathe some fresh air. And what better than the feeling of flying airplanes!?

After finishing Elvis in 2021, Austin didn’t have much time to prepare for the role of Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven. He did, however, have a 10-day quarantine when he arrived in England, and, in that time, he read Donald L. Miller’s book with the same name and rewatched Band of Brothers and The Pacific – both productions of the duo Hanks-Spielberg. 

After that, he started bootcamp with a cast that included Callum Turner, Barry Keoghan, Anthony Boyle, Nate Mann, and Rafferty Law. So that’s how he managed to transition from spotlights and a Rock n’ Roll filled atmosphere to a World War II scenario of bombs and airplanes.

The series was adapted from Donald L. Miller’s 2007 book, and focuses on the experiences of the 100th Bomb Group, a B-17 unit during World War II. Portrayed by Butler, Gale Cleven is a central figure among the protagonists. As a skilled pilot and a charismatic presence, he stands as a pillar of emotional strength within the Hundredth. While Gale is characterized as a more sensible part, his best friend, John ‘Bucky’ Egan, balances it off by being the more grounded one.

Masters of the Air launched this year, with one episode per week and winning the hearts of us all. But that wasn’t the only project we saw Austin Butler in 2024. The 32-year-old actor was in a major theatrical release with the second installment of Dune

Austin plays Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, nephew and successor of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Feyd is someone who challenges Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) in the story. He wants to get control of Arrakis, and he is not exactly kind in doing so. He is a merciless fighter who has no regard for human life. The Harkonnen heir is cruel and sadistic, notoriously different from the man who plays him. 

Luckily, the methods Austin used when playing Elvis were left aside when he was cast as Feyd-Rautha. Director Denis Villeneuve said to him that when the cameras were rolling, “it was like you were possessed. When the camera was off, you were still maybe 25 or 30% Feyd, just enough to still be present and focus but removed enough that you didn’t kill anybody on set”.

Austin was very different from his usual self, not just on the inside, being a psychopath and all, but also on the outside. The actor used a bald cap – he couldn’t shave his head because of another project –, that covered his head and eyebrows, and his teeth were blackened. 

Butler also had a specific diet and training in order to portray a more robust character. It paid off. Dune: Part Two was a huge success, and the actor received much praise for his role. Even though his character is the antagonist, Austin portrayed him with charisma, making his craziness appealing and entertaining to watch.

The project for which he couldn’t have a shaved head for was The Bikeriders, which has not been released yet, but we can’t wait to see it! The movie takes place in the 1960s, following the story of a Midwestern motorcycle club called Vandals. The cast includes Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer and Mike Faist.

Austin plays Benny, a reckless bike rider, who’s married to Kathy (Comer). She is the one who narrates the Vandals’ transformation, beginning as just a local club led by Tom Hardy’s character, Johnny, and later turning into a crime gang.

What about the future?

Austin is booked and busy! The actor’s schedule includes Ari Aster’s new film, Eddington, that follows a small-town New Mexico sheriff with higher aspirations. This A24 movie has an all-star cast, with Emma Stone, Pedro Pascal, and Joaquin Phoenix

Based on the book by Charlie Huston, Caught Stealing is also set to star Austin Butler. The story follows a former baseball player, Hank Thompson, as he finds himself thrust into a fight for survival in the criminal underworld of the 1990s in New York. The movie is going to be directed by Darren Aronofsky and begins filming this year.

In his first leading role since Elvis, Butler is scheduled to star in City on Fire, an adaptation of Don Winslow’s novel with the same name. This will be his debut as a producer, joining David Heyman and Shane Salerno.

City on Fire serves as the opening chapter in Winslow’s trilogy, and follows the dynamics of two criminal empires, one Irish, the other Italian, that control New England. Butler takes on the role of Danny Ryan, who goes from a mere street soldier to a cold-hearted leader in order to protect his loved ones and forge a dynasty in the process. 

Also, as Adele would say, rumor has it the actor is set to play a young Val Kilmer in the sequel of Michael Mann’s action movie Heat. As far as we know about the film, Heat 2 will follow the main characters in two timelines, before and after the events of the first installment.

Between productions that involve action, drama, crime, and thriller, I think it’s fair to say Austin Butler’s future might be brighter than his bald head in Dune.

👯‍♀️ Related: #6 Parallels Between Dune And Star Wars That Will Make You Want To Watch Both

The article above was edited by Juliana Sanches.

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Valentine Boutsiavaras

Casper Libero '25

just a journalism student trying to do journalism things. I'm a sports lover and a superhero fan. I love reading romance books, watching a good rom-com and binge-watching a new series :)