When Elvis was released, it earned international praise for its telling of Elvis Presley’s life story. Austin Butler, who played the titular role, was also applauded for his fantastic portrayal of the King of Rock N’ Roll, but the work did not come without its sacrifices. Playing the character took a lot out of the 31-year-old actor, and his co-star, Tom Hanks, saw that firsthand. That is why he stepped in to help him move on from playing Elvis.
Hanks had good reason to offer him a role
Elvis was released in the summer of 2022, featuring Austin Butler as the leading man. Filming the movie took an excruciating toll on him, one that didn’t go unnoticed by his co-stars – especially Hanks, who played Colonel Tom Parker.
After filming came to a close, Hanks immediately offered Butler a new role in the Apple TV+ miniseries he co-produces with Steven Spielberg, Masters of the Air. It serves as the third installment of their WWII saga, which includes Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010).
Butler explained that he was offered the role after Hanks became concerned for his mental health during Elvis. He said that Hanks told him, “You have immersed yourself so deeply in ‘Elvis’ that, for your mental health, it would be wise to go straight into something else. If you just jump off the train, you might have emotional whiplash… and, you know, I’ve got this thing I’m producing.'”
Butler really gave himself to the part
Hanks wasn’t wrong to be concerned for Butler’s mental health. Butler himself admitted that playing the King was a long struggle for him. He said that playing Elvis forced him “to go to the very edge of what is possible, and not every experience will be like that. I don’t think I’ll ever have an experience like that again, but if I have to really dig, it makes me feel alive.”
It took him three years to prepare for the role, learning to adopt Presley’s southern drawl and the cadence of his voice. Given the timeline of the film, Butler also had to take drastic measures to gain weight in order to accurately depict Elvis’s later years, such as drinking melted Häagen-Dasz ice cream.
Butler also explained that his dedication to the role was so intense that he was diagnosed with a virus that imitated symptoms of appendicitis and put him in the hospital as soon as filming ended. “The next day [after filming wrapped] I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to the hospital,” he said. “My body just started shutting down the day after I finished ‘Elvis.'”
For all the hardships, Butler received ample praise for his commitment to the role, earning himself a nomination for Best Actor at the 2023 Academy Awards.
Hanks is no stranger to method acting
It’s no surprise Hanks noticed Butler’s declining mental health on set considering he himself often employs method acting for some of his roles. In Cast Away (2000), Hanks gained 50 pounds to depict the main character Chuck Noland before he became stranded on the island in the South Pacific. Then, throughout filming, Hanks lost 55 pounds to show Noland after being stuck on the island for four years. Such a rapid and drastic fluctuation in body weight is not healthy, and it likely contributed to his developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Additionally, Hanks got a staph infection during filming after he managed to get a cut on his leg. He employed poor hygiene to make sure his portrayal of the role was accurate, which could’ve made the infection fatal.
For The Green Mile (1999), Hanks remained in character even after filming had wrapped. Stephen King, the author of the book the film is based on, experienced Hanks’ method acting firsthand after he was playing around on a fake electric chair on set. Hanks allegedly yelled at him and warned him of the danger he could find himself in if his subordinates saw him fooling around – as though they were actually death row prison guards. At first, King was shocked by the outburst, but then he realized that Hanks was simply still in character.
Given his own personal experience with trying to leave an immersive role behind, Hanks likely did Butler a huge solid by offering him his next role so soon after Elvis.