The World Has Been Sleeping on 'Elvis' Star Austin Butler

Thank goodness the actor is finally having a moment. He's been one to watch since starring on 'The Carrie Diaries.'

austin butler elvis premiere
Austin Butler at the London premiere of 'Elvis' | Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Warner Bros.
Austin Butler at the London premiere of 'Elvis' | Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Back in 2019 when it was announced that Baz Luhrmann's next film would be an Elvis Presley biopic, the handful of names in the running to play the rock 'n' roll icon made a lot of sense. There was Harry Styles, a rock star himself; Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who had already played a young John Lennon in another music biopic, Nowhere Boy; Miles Teller, whose charisma you could picture in the role; and Ansel Elgort, who has since been accused of sexual assault but was being cast in other musicals at the time, like Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

There was also a fifth name in consideration: Austin Butler, who, in comparison to the other A-listers competing, seemed like a bit of a wild card. But after the "intense" audition process, Luhrmann ended up being the most impressed with Butler, crowning him The King in the passion project that he'd been working on since 2013's The Great Gatsby wrapped.

austin butler in elvis
Austin Butler in 'Elvis' | Warner Bros. Pictures

Elvis is now finally in theaters, and while the reviews are all over the place, the one thing most critics can agree on is how fantastic Butler is. If he wasn't who you had counted on to play Presley, or if you simply hadn't heard of the actor prior to the release—well, perhaps aside from his nine-year role as Vanessa Hudgens' boyfriend, which called for many public Coachella appearances—the buzz around his performance might have you intrigued. It would be very wrong, though, to say that everybody is only now recognizing Butler's previously untapped potential. For fans of The CW's The Carrie Diaries, which ran for two seasons in 2013 and 2014, it's simply about damn time that the charmer had his breakthrough moment.

The truth is, the world has been sleeping on Austin Butler—aside from the small but mighty hive of Carrie Diaries fans who have been waiting for years for the we-told-you-so moment we're now experiencing. The teen series, a prequel to Sex and the City about high-school-aged Carrie Bradshaw, was arguably his first major role. After a handful of appearances in kids movies and TV stints, primarily on The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, he joined The Carrie Diaries in 2013 as Carrie's bad-boy love interest Sebastian Kydd. The CW show wasn't at all canon, and the only boy Carrie had eyes for was Sebastian—never mind that in the HBO show she says she lost her virginity to Sean Bateman on his ping-pong table. But that's besides the point, because Butler was one of the clear standouts. Like AnnaSophia Robb's wide-eyed Carrie, you couldn't help but swoon whenever he appeared and basically felt weak in the knees when he called her "Bradshaw." Between their first kiss in a swimming pool and every scene in which they shared his Walkman, the young actor had a presence that was hard to ignore.

austin butler in the carrie diaries
AnnaSophia Robb and Austin Butler in 'The Carrie Diaries' | Warner Bros. Television Distribution

It was a crime not only when The Carrie Diaries was canceled, but that Butler didn't just become an in-demand leading man. Obviously, not enough Hollywood execs had seen the way he smiled at Carrie down the school hallways. A few years later, he joined another short-lived teen series, MTV's The Shannara Chronicles, and then wasn't seen all that much on-screen again, until a scene-stealing performance as Charles Manson disciple Tex Watson in Quentin Tarantino's 2019 film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. But while he wasn't landing many major movie roles, he was catching the attention of theater fans and the No. 1 thespian-turned-Hollywood-royalty: Denzel Washington, with whom Butler starred opposite in a 2018 Broadway rendition of The Iceman Cometh.

In fact, we actually have Washington to thank for Elvis, as he literally gave Luhrmann a cold call and urged him to see Butler in an audition, having been so impressed with his stage work. (I also like to think Denzel is secretly a Carrie Diaries stan.) And not only does Washington ride for Butler, but Presley's living family have been more than impressed by the actor. (When his granddaughter Riley Keough invited him to the Graceland estate, I like to think they all fired up a binge watch of The Carrie Diaries.)

Really, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world saw Butler the way fans of The Carrie Diaries did in the 2010s. And it's only the beginning: Next, he'll start work on the highly anticipated Dune sequel, taking on a role that was famously played by a young Sting in the David Lynch adaptation from 1984. It may have taken a few years, but the moment Butler is having is not unlike the swoon-inducing hold Elvis Presley ignited decades ago as his popularity grew. We're ready for the star's swiveling hips to hit the big screen, and we'll follow his smolder through whatever blockbuster or awards-primed indie he inevitably does next.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She's on Twitter and Instagram.