The camera fixates on his crotch and wiggling legs as he sings “Hayride.” Young women in the audience lose control as men grow fearful of the effect of his otherworldly presence. The room erupts into chaos as the women flock to the stage and rip his blazer off. It’s the moment everyone in the room realizes they have a superstar in their hands, and it’s the moment that proves that Butler has the power to evoke the same feral reaction from audiences (myself very much included).
For the past few months, Butler has been Hollywood’s latest It Boy: from being the talk of the Croisette at Cannes Film Festival in May to having audiences fawn over his magnificent performance as the late King of Rock and Roll in Baz Luhrmann’s latest spectacle, Elvis.
Many teen icons have successfully transitioned into having equally stellar careers as adults (see: Selena Gomez, Zendaya, and Miley Cyrus). Butler’s journey has been slow but steady up until Elvis. But for the ones who know, who have followed him all along, this feels good. It feels right.
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Luhrmann stated that the Butler who first came to our attention through his Disney era at the onset of his career “doesn’t exist anymore” now that he has spent the past two years in the shoes of the rock icon. To that, I say: Real Butler stans won’t forget his roots, and he certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of them either.
Austin Butler is very good in Elvis. Giving a performance worthy of the King, Butler is equal parts mesmerizing and heartbreaking as he plays Elvis at every stage of his long and complicated career. He walks away as the heart and soul of this larger-than-life film and disappears into the role, making you second-guess whether you’re watching him perform or looking at archival footage of the real Elvis.
The internet seems to be shocked, with floods of tweets and articles saying things along the lines of “whatever you feel about Elvis, who would have thought that Austin Butler would be this good.” Playing the cultural icon may have skyrocketed him to A-list recognition. But I can trace the moment I knew he was a star to a decade before—and can report you’ve all been sleeping on him for too long.
If you were growing up in the mid-to-late 2000s, then you have certainly seen Butler show up in one of your favorite Disney and Nickelodeon programs.
He’s appeared in a variety of teen shows and movies, including the High School Musical spinoff Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure and Aliens in the Attic. In 2005, he had an uncredited role as Zippy Brewster for 41 episodes of Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and later won fans over with his heartthrob-turning role as James Garrett, the boyfriend of Jamie Lynn Spears’ title character in Zoey 101.
In Hannah Montana, a 15-year-old Butler briefly appeared as a character named Toby before returning in a later season as Derek Hanson, Miley’s blind date who hilariously ruins the night because of his inability to handle horror movies. He had a streak as Hollywood’s go-to pretty boy, also appearing in Disney’s Zeke and Luther and Wizards of Waverly Place, as well as supporting roles in Life Unexpected and Switched at Birth.
If you were a fan of teen- and tween-oriented programming, Butler was everywhere. And he was hot.
I can pinpoint the exact moment he became a certified heartthrob with a capital H to his role in The Carrie Diaries, The CW’s 2013 prequel to Sex and the City. A much superior—albeit tragically short-lived—spinoff than And Just Like That, The Carrie Diaries centers on Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) as she comes of age in the 1980s.
Naturally, Butler plays Sebastian Kydd, the bad-boy new kid who becomes Carrie’s dreamy, lip-biting love interest over the course of the show’s two seasons. His charisma, showcased in all of its glory in the iconic pool scene that I haven’t stopped thinking about for nearly a decade, easily lands him in the teen drama boyfriends hall of fame.
Of Carrie’s many questionable romantic partners, I can’t help but wonder if any ever lived up to the high standards set by Sebastian. With the long-overdue arrival of Butler’s breakthrough moment with Elvis, we can only hope and anticipate that The Carrie Diaries will be next in line to receive the rediscovered love it deserves.
With Elvis, the 30-year-old actor has come full circle, having played a boy who sings painfully bad in a 2007 episode of iCarly to now portraying a rock legend.
As expected, Luhrmann’s musical biopic is an exuberant, maximalist, and montage-filled fever dream. Still, despite being helmed by the director of Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby, Elvis’ success was always going to live or die by its casting, and Luhrmann made the right decision when he cast Butler—who beat out the likes of Harry Styles and Miles Teller—in the title role.
His pretty boy status flawlessly sells the idea that Elvis’ leg shaking and pelvic thrusting sent women into euphoric states that resulted in orgasmic reactions when they heard him sing. Whether you walked out of the theater liking the film or not, you can’t deny that Butler succeeded at making us fully understand why Elvis was such an enamoring figure.
I respect the hustle of Butler’s newfound persona: Ever since the Elvis press tour began, he has been donning a thick Southern accent and Elvis-esque mannerisms that have taken social media by storm. His performance—which, according to a recent GQ profile, landed him in the hospital after filming due to the mental and physical toll—has put him on the map as someone who is an excellent actor just as much as he is a gorgeous face we can all thirst over.
He doesn’t lean into cartoonishly impersonating Elvis but rather embodies and convincingly becomes him (somewhat literally), flaws and all. Not to mention how he rocks the iconic Elvis jumpsuits and sang every song himself.
With slicked-back fluffy hair, masterful smoldering, and puppy-dog energy—all mixed with a touch of mysteriousness—Butler seems like he was carefully crafted in a lab just to check all the boxes of what makes the perfect internet boyfriend. He may have spent the majority of his career being typecast as the charming guy that every girl helplessly falls for, but Butler has now proven that he is a great performer who has rarely been given the opportunity to show off his acting chops.
Many have called Butler a “revelation” and “rising star” as a result of his captivating performance in Elvis, but those of us who were raised on tween shows of the aughts would argue otherwise. (I also can’t go without mentioning the fact that his nearly decade-long relationship with Vanessa Hudgens, fellow Disney star-turned-reigning queen of red carpet interviews, had us all—and Tumblr—rapt for years.)
As Butler climbs through the ranks of Hollywood, I’ll always remember him as Carrie Bradshaw’s best (and hottest) boyfriend and the boy who always had me blushing at the television when I tuned into Disney Channel.