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Austin Butler Was Brought To Tears During His Vocal Preparation For Elvis

Playing someone like Elvis Presley is a tall order. Not just because he was such an iconic figure, but because much of the music and culture that influenced him, unfortunately, continues to be overlooked today. So it's no wonder that Austin Butler, in preparing for his critically acclaimed turn in Bas Luhrmann's "Elvis," found himself so profoundly moved in trying to root himself in the musical traditions that inspired Presley.

In a conversation between Butler and Janelle Monáe published in Variety, the two discussed the influence that African American artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, and Big Mama Thornton had on Presley. "There were so many artists that Elvis was inspired by, borrowed from — people say took from," said Monáe. "I'm happy that was addressed [in the movie]. Because I don't think he [Presley] would have been as successful, or really found his own voice, had he not seen gospel singers in church. And seen jazz musicians playing."

Butler then recounted how, while preparing for the role, he observed a gospel choir in Nashville. That experience deeply moved Butler and helped him better understand the incredible impact of gospel music on Presley.

'When you can't help but move because your spirit is being moved.'

Austin Butler noted that the singer leading the congregation shared with them that a close friend of his was dying (via Variety). "They moved seamlessly from one gospel number to the other, singing spiritual music for eight hours straight," Butler said. "I stood in the center ... Chills are going down my body. Tears are pouring down my face. That was a pivotal moment for me, as far as what music means and what movement means. When you can't help but move because your spirit is being moved."

Austin Butler experienced a fear of failure in portraying Elvis Presley and mentioned in his conversation with Janelle Monáe that he grappled with a shyness that made him hesitant to dance in public. But it sounds like his experience with the choir in Nashville helped pull him out of his shell. The experience also helped Butler better understand the profound impact gospel had on Presley's own musical approach. Over the course of his career, Presley recorded three albums and one EP of gospel music. In fact, according to ElvisBiography.net, the only Grammys ever won by "the King of Rock and Roll" were for those records. Elvis was of course nominated several times for his rock records, but never actually won (via Grammy.com).