Austin Butler, nominated for an Oscar in Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis,' calls nod 'bittersweet'
Austin Butler forgot to set his alarm Tuesday morning.
An incessant stream of phone calls and urgent texts from his publicist and agent finally woke him from his reverie to deliver the news that the actor had garnered his first best actor Oscar nomination for his Golden Globe-winning portrayal of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll in Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" biopic.
"I was trying to process it and trying to figure out if I was dreaming or not," Butler tells USA TODAY. Minutes later, when he was doing a remote interview on "Good Morning America," reality sunk in.
Joy immediately mixed with sorrow, as the 31-year-old actor's career milestone had to be squared with the tragedy of Lisa Marie Presley's shocking death two weeks ago, which brought Butler and Luhrmann to Graceland for a mournful memorial service for Elvis' only child.
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"It’s been a roller coaster these last couple of weeks, really high highs and these deep valleys of sorrow," says Butler. "A moment like this, it feels joyous but it also feels bittersweet because I just wish Lisa Marie was here to celebrate with us right now.
"But, you know, it’s the same way I feel about my mom," adds Butler, whose mother died from cancer when he was 23, the same age Elvis lost his mother Gladys. "Days like today, you try and sit with the feeling of honoring them."
Butler spent years preparing for his role of Elvis Presley in a production delayed repeatedly by pandemic lockdown and co-star Tom Hanks' early COVID-19 diagnosis.
Now, he finds himself in the elite best actor category with fellow first-time nominees Colin Farrell ("The Banshees of Inisherin"), Brendan Fraser ("The Whale"), Bill Nighy ("Living") and Paul Mescal ("Aftersun").
Butler says he's seen all of those movies, and also particularly admired "All Quiet on the Western Front," which garnered nine Oscar nominations, as did "Banshees." Both were second to the 11 nominations raked in by Michelle Yeoh's multiverse-hopping "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Might winning the best actor Oscar be another way to pay tribute to Lisa Marie?
"I’m so humbled and feel so privileged to be listed in the great actors in this category," says Butler. Winning would be "a beautiful way" of honoring her, but "just going on this journey at all has been the biggest privilege of my life."
Butler on returning to Graceland for Lisa Marie Presley's funeral: 'Just so shattering'
On the call, Butler sounds weary. The pain the actor still feels after spending the weekend at Graceland along with fans and fellow mourners is evident.
"Being there, well, it was really devastating. It was incredibly heartbreaking. We are still all in shock," he says. "It doesn’t feel like it should be real, it's just incredibly sad.
"But it’s also a beautiful thing to see so many people come together for a unified love for one person," he adds. "I feel privileged I got to be there for her, and for Priscilla and (Lisa Marie's children) Riley and Harper and Finley and the entire family. But it’s just so shattering."
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