Three Elvis Impersonators on Austin Butler’s Elvis
For nine months now, fans and critics alike have praised Austin Butler’s performance as the King of Rock and Roll in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, which the Academy looks likely to award with an Oscar this weekend. But what do any of them know about Elvis?
We shouldn’t be looking to alleged experts like the Academy to judge Butler’s Elvis, we should be turning to the men who know Elvis better than anyone — Elvis impersonators. After all, they’re the ones who have dedicated their lives to lip-curling and hip-shaking exactly like the King did.
And so, I called up a few of them to see what they thought of Butler, and while they were mostly complimentary, they did have a few notes.
On ‘Elvis ’ the Movie
Danny Dale, Elvis impersonator since 1999 in Louisville: I saw Elvis 10 times. I thought Austin Butler did a good job, but when people see all the drama Elvis went through with Colonel Parker in the movie, they may not realize that some of the story was just Hollywood magic to fill in the gaps. They didn’t really meet on the Louisiana hayrides, and they didn’t really ride the ferris wheel together. There are a lot of things like that, but it was a good portrayal of Elvis.
Marek Brada, Elvis impersonator since the late 1980s in Slovakia: I saw Elvis five times. The first time I saw it, I wasn’t that impressed with how the movie went back and forth all the time with quick cuts. That’s the filming style of the director, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I had to see it a couple of times to get the vibe going. I enjoy that it was a big budget production that put Elvis back front and center, and I thought Austin Butler was fantastic.
Joe Kent Cochran, Elvis impersonator since 1986 in Detroit: I didn’t see the whole thing, but I’ve seen so many snips of the movie that it seems like I’ve watched the whole thing.
On Austin Butler’s Performance
Dale: When an ETA (Elvis Tribute Artist) takes the stage, they try to fulfill the full image of Elvis — his mannerisms, the singing, the gestures and how Elvis would cut up with the crowd. They try to capture his whole essence. Fifteen or 16 years ago, I was awarded the “Essence of Elvis Award” in Branson, Missouri and that can be the hardest part to get right. Austin Butler gave a good performance — especially because he had only two years to learn what ETAs learn over 20 years.
The talking part is hard to do, and Austin did a pretty good job of that. He also nailed the 1968 comeback special to a T. He really captured Elvis’ “animalism” as the women used to call it. The only thing that bothers me about Austin Butler is that, when you see him in interviews now, he’s still talking like Elvis. I don’t know if he’s having trouble getting out of his speech patterns or what.
Brada: Austin Butler took two years out of his life to live and breathe Elvis, and he got everything down right — from the way Elvis shook his head to the walk.
Cochran: He’s okay. To me, he’s an amate— Well, maybe not an amateur. He’s pretty good.
On How Butler Could Have Improved
Dale: He should have been a little more relaxed at certain times. A few times, there was a bit of tenseness where he was overdoing the performance a little. I see that with ETAs sometimes, they get a bit tense. But with Elvis, you’ve got to stay loose and let it flow.
Brada: He did phenomenally well, I can’t think of anything. He got it all down perfectly.
Cochran: When I first saw the trailer, it looked really good, but when I started looking at more parts of the movie I thought there was a bit of over-acting in the Elvis role — especially with his physical moves and his facial features. I’m an actor too — I’ve been in a couple of soap operas here in Detroit — and he was overdoing it.