How Austin Butler went from shy Disney star to scooping a BAFTA

Confidence of a King! How Austin Butler went from shy Disney star to scooping Best Actor at the BAFTAs – and even shares a heartbreaking similarity with Elvis Presley

  • Austin Butler, 31, scooped the Best Actor award for his role in Elvis at the BAFTAs
  • Here FEMAIL charts the former child star’s stratospheric rise to fame
  • Read More: Austin Butler pays tribute to the late Lisa Marie Presley after winning Best Actor at the BAFTAs

Five years ago, Austin Butler was arguably best known for his role as the romantic lead in he short-lived Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries. 

But bagging the lead in Baz Luhrmann’s critically acclaimed movie Elvis has been nothing short of life-changing for the former child star.

Last night, the actor, 31, scooped the Best Actor gong at the BAFTAs and will go head-to-head with Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell, Paul Mescal and Bill Nighy at the Oscars next month

However, it appears as though acting wasn’t a natural career choice for Austin – as the star has previously revealed that his childhood shyness made so him tongue-tied around strangers that he was too nervous to order his own food in restaurants. 

Having had his start in kids’ shows such as Hannah Montana, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and iCarly, Austin’s performance as the King of Rock is what has really put him on the Hollywood map. 

Austin (pictured here in Elvis) earned the title role after sending an audition tape of himself singing in his bathrobe to director Baz Luhrmann 

Although his starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis has put him firmly on the Hollywood map, actor Austin Butler (pictured here in 2008) is a veteran of the entertainment industry, with a large back catalogue of work

Here FEMAIL charts his stratospheric rise to fame – as well as his heartbreaking similarity to Elvis. 

‘Cripplingly shy’ child 

Born in 1991 to his late mother Lori Anne, an aesthetician, and realtor David Butler, the youngster had one older sister Ashley. 

After their parents divorced amicably, when Austin was seven-years-old, the siblings would move between their respective homes. 

Though the family ‘didn’t have much money’, in Austin’s words, Lori Anne was able to buy season tickets for nearby Disneyland. 

She would occasionally let the two children skip a day off school, and the trio would enjoy a day at the amusement park. 

As a child, Austin showed an interest in the arts, teaching himself to play the guitar and piano at a young age. 

In December 2022, Austin hosted his first Saturday Night Live show – where he credited his mother for encouraging him to start acting 

Undated photo of Austin Butler and his late mother Lori Anne, his father David and sister Ashley 

Austin Butler, pictured with his older sister Ashley, has previously spoken about how he didn’t plan to be an actor as a young child, as he was extremely shy 

He explained: ‘Being silly with her is what broke me out of my shell and it’s the core of what started me in acting. 

‘Even though I had this crippling shyness, when I was with her, I’d do anything to make my mom laugh. I’d make funny faces and voices. I’d even do this ridiculous Gollum impression.’ 

However, his first real entry into acting came about by chance meeting when he was 10-years-old. 

Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2020, Austin revealed that it was while tagging along when his stepbrother went to L.A. for a commercial audition, that he was asked if he too would like to read for a part.  

Pictured here at a Cannes photocall for Elvis this month, the actor is poised for major success, after winning plaudits for his portrayal of the musician

Priscilla Presley, 77, the ex-wife of Elvis, and Austin Butler attend the photocall for “Elvis” during the 75th annual Cannes film festival

According to Austin: ‘I don’t know what came over me, but I said yes. They handed me a commercial – Oreos or Welch’s grape juice or something – and I go up in front of a camera after all these children. 

‘I was shaking, but I did it, and that led to me being an extra at 10 years old.’ 

Slow rise to fame

After landing a regular job as a background actor on the Nickelodeon show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide in 2005, Austen got a manager and started acting seriously.

Over the coming years, he worked prolifically, winning roles in Disney’s Hannah Montana as well as in Nickelodeon series including iCarly and Zoey 101.

Movie roles in 2009’s Aliens in the Attic, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure followed. Meanwhile, he appeared in TV shows including CSI: Miami, The Defenders and Arrow among others.   

He also acted in a play alongside veteran actor Denzel Washington in 2018, taking a role in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway.

But the young star, who left high school aged 15-and-a-half, had even bigger ambitions.

As he revealed to GQ, he always had high aspirations when it came to the kind of productions he wanted to act in, listing Raging Bull, The Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape as movies he admired.  

The star, pictured here at a Nickelodeon premiere in 2008, has disclosed that his family didn’t have lots of money growing up, but as natives of Anaheim, his mother managed to buy Disneyland passes, and would take Austin and his sister sometimes on school days

‘I printed out the Pulp Fiction script when I was 12, and I’d read it to my mum in the car,’ he said. 

‘That was my dream from 12-years-old. I said, “Quentin [Tarantino] is the director I want to work with”.’

That wish came true when he played Tex Watson, a rabid Manson follower, in the iconic director’s 2019 movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Heartbreaking tragedy shared with Elvis

In 2014, Austin tragically lost his mother Lori to cancer when he was just 23 years old – the same age Elvis was when his mother Gladys passed away of a heart attack.

Speaking to TODAY earlier this month, Austin explained how his mother quit her job to drive him to auditions and acting classes all around California.

He explained: ‘When she was in high school, she wanted to be an actor.

Austin (pictured, centre, in 2012) has talked about how he used the pain from the death of his mother Lori (pictured, right) from cancer in 2014 in his acting

Undated photo of Elvis his mother Gladys. The King of Rock’s mother died in 1958 of a heart attack when Elvis was just 23 years old

‘So I think I’m sort of getting to live this life for both of us in that way. She was my best friend.’

What’s more, Austin told Access Hollywood that he was so devastated by the loss of his mother that he almost quit acting.

He said: ‘After my mom passed away, it put things in a different perspective where I started to question if this was a profession that could help the world or anything.’ 

While still grieving his mother, Austin flew to New Zealand to film a series that was cancelled after two seasons. He explained that although the show was enjoyed by viewers and that he himself had ‘fun’ shooting, ‘I’d go home and cry every night.’ 

‘I was dealing with grief, but it was also this feeling that I wasn’t aligned with something that felt truly fulfilling,’ he added, revealing that he was around 24-years-old at the time and was ready to take a break from acting. 

Before Covid hit, Austin spent five months auditioning for the role of Elvis before he officially landed the part.

Last night, Austin scooped the award for Best Actor at the BAFTAs for his role as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic

Last year, he explained how he tried to film an audition tape for the movie and worried that it wasn’t authentic. Afterwards, the actor despondently went to bed where he had a nightmare that his mother was alive again, but dying.

Just days earlier, Austen had learnt that Elvis too had lost his mother when he was 23, and thought about how he could use the parallel.

He told Vogue: ‘I sat down at the piano in my bathrobe and just started fiddling. I’d been practicing Unchained Melody for a while, but I’d always been singing it to a lover. 

‘That night, I sang it to my mom. I wasn’t trying to look and sound like Elvis. I wasn’t trying to do anything but take that emotion and pour it into the song.’

Despite the lack of polish – Austin was wearing his dressing gown in the tape – the video was compelling enough to land him the film’s eponymous role, despite director Baz Luhrmann considering bigger names like Harry Styles.

Bio: The three-paragraph bio reveals Butler was born in Anaheim, California and always loved movies growing up

Despite his career taking off in a huge way, Austin still has a charmingly-outdated ‘mini-bio’ on his IMBD page which was written by his parents in 2007.

The three-paragraph bio reveals Butler was born in Anaheim, California and always loved movies growing up.

They revealed that Butler was 13 when he was at the Orange County Fair and was, ‘approached by a representative from a background-acting management company, who helped him get started in the entertainment industry. 

‘He found that he really enjoyed it, and began taking a few acting classes. Soon, he landed a rather permanent (2005-2007) background-acting gig on Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide (2004), and a friend on the show, Lindsey Shaw, introduced him to her manager, who offered to represent him. From that point on, he considered himself to be a serious actor,’ the bio revealed.

‘His first named (albeit uncredited) character was “Toby” in the Hannah Montana (2006) episode “Oops, I Meddled Again” in 2006 (girl broke up with him),’ the bio added.

They continued his, ‘First speaking role was in Zoey 101 (2005), as “Dannifer” or “Wrong Danny” (a few lines, and a girl poured soda down his shirt). He got a meatier role on Hannah Montana (2006) in 2007, still a small part, but very fun (a few more lines, and he got to fling popcorn on Miley Cyrus).’

The bio added that his, ‘big break (relatively speaking) was in 2007, as casting directors started to recognize him from his many, many auditions, and he was given an opportunity to play the part of “Jake Krandle” in the new Nickelodeon series iCarly (2007), which should start airing late in 2007. His first episode is called “iLike Jake,”‘ the bio concludes.

The bio was credited to ‘David and Lori Butler (proud parents),’ written in 2007, years after they had amicably divorced when Butler was just 7 years old.

Star-studded love life 

Austin was accompanied to the film’s 2019 premiere with his then girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens, 33, who reportedly ended the relationship in early 2020, after nearly nine years together. 

Many may be more familiar with the 30-year-old actor because of his relationships with high profile women including Vanessa Hudgens (pictured, left) and Kaia Gerber (pictured, right)

Many of the recent headlines concerning Austin have been about his relationship with Kaia Gerber. The pair confirmed their relationship earlier this year

Film director Baz Luhrmann (pictured, right, at the Cannes Film Festival this month), has suggested that Austin (pictured, left) could enjoy the same success as Leonardo DiCaprio

Since then, he confirmed his relationship with Kaia Gerber, the 20-year-old model and daughter of Cindy Crawford in March this year, after the couple were first spotted together at the end of 2021.

He’s remained tight-lipped about the relationship though, telling GQ he doesn’t want to share about it.

Austen prefers instead to discuss his acting work, even when it includes painful details about his personal life. 

He has spoken openly about how he created the audition tape that landed him the part of Elvis in Luhrmann’s movie, opening up about how he channelled pain from the death of his mother from cancer several years’ earlier, when he was 23, into his performance.

Following the film’s release, plaudits have been pouring in for its star.

Industry figures now anticipate major success for the its star. In fact Luhrmann, who cast Leonardo DiCaprio in his 90s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet compared the two actors, suggesting Austin can expect the same trajectory.

Speaking to GQ, he said: ‘I think Leonardo was recognising what Austin’s about to go through. The difference for Austin, and this is fortunate, is that Austin is very young looking, but he’s 30.’    

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