Can a role change an actor’s voice forever? Austin Butler and other cases of extreme interpretations

two weeks after the delivery of the Golden Globes the words of Austin Butler after winning the best actor award for his role in Elvis. Not because of what he said, but because of how he said it. Butler literally spoke as the Memphis singer would have done, in his own voice, the one he uses throughout the film. It was not a tribute or a joke. Despite the fact that more than a year has passed since the end of filming, the Californian Butler continues to sport the characteristic southern accent of the king of rock.

The sarcastic comments on social networks did not wait. “I’ve never committed to anything the way Austin Butler has committed to Elvis’s voice,” wrote a user. Other wondered if the actor was also using the voice of Elvis in the second part of Dunewhile the most maledicent predicted that the final date of such a curious phenomenon would miraculously arrive at the party after the Oscars gala and they joked that the actor had attended “acting school for Lady Gaga’s Oscars campaign,” comparing the actor’s attitude to Lady Gaga’s self-promotion effort to get a nomination for the gucci house (failure).

These comments about Butler’s healing were in response to an interview in which Irene Bartlett, one of the actor’s voice coaches during filming, justified the accent of his pupil and assured that perhaps that would be his new voice forever. “The voice is a muscular phenomenon,” she asserted. “So, just like an athlete, if you go overboard when you’re too young, or try to impose a sound that isn’t natural to that voice, eventually that voice will get tired and you’ll have problems.” The coach defended Butler from the accusations of imposture: “What you saw in that speech is him. It is authentic, it is not a montage ”. And she pointed out among the causes of the phenomenon the time spent on the creation of the character: “Due to the interruptions due to COVID, I worked with him all the time, and it is difficult to disconnect something to which you have dedicated so many hours.”

Austin Butler at the 2022 Met Gala.Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images for The Met Museum/)

He also alluded to the director’s way of working Baz Luhrmann: “It’s very easy to be an imitator, because what you do is literally copy the sounds”, but that was the last thing the director wanted. “Luhrmann didn’t want him to be an Elvis impersonator, he wanted a real connection to his personality and his story and that’s what Austin worked for.” And he added another sign of how committed the actor was to the role: “When he came to the singing classes, he was dressed in the style of the fifties ″.

Butler could not evade the issue either and gave explanations after the gala. “I don’t think I still sound like him. But I guess I have to because I hear it a lot. For three years this role was my only interest in life, so I’m sure there are parts of it that will be embedded in my DNA. I often compare him to someone who spends a lot of time in another country.”

An explanation that can be doubtful. If there is someone who has done a chameleonic job with her voice, it is meryl streep, famous for the use of accents. In the eighties he went from the British in The French Lieutenant’s Wife to polish in Sophie’s decisionthe Danish in Memories of Africa and the Australian in a scream in the dark without his New Jersey voice disappearing when giving interviews (we were able to verify this when he picked up his last Oscar for The woman of ironan interpretation in which from her voice to the last hair of her wig referred to Margaret Thatcher).

Anne Hathaway shows off her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 'Les Miserables' in 2013.
Anne Hathaway shows off her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for ‘Les Miserables’ in 2013.Jason Merritt (Getty Images)

If we believe that Butler’s change is due to his dedication to the role and not to a promotional strategy, the actor would become part of the long list of interpreters for whom getting into the skin of a character has gone too far. hands. To play Władysław Szpilman in The pianist, Adrien Brody did not just lose weight and learn to play the piano, but he gave a radical change to his life: he gave up all the comforts, sold his car and left his home. His immersion was so deep that it affected his private life and caused a break with his partner. “I was in a very dark, sad, raw place, all day, every day.”

The months spent immersed in the horrors the Jewish people had endured during World War II took their toll on him. “It wasn’t just a depression, it was mourning,” declared fifteen years later to indiewire. “I was very shocked by what I discovered and the awareness that it awakened in me.” The actor spent the next year sleeping on his friends’ couches, trying to reconnect with his loved ones and adjusting to his everyday life again.

A similar process followed Jim Carrey after interpreting his idol, controversial comedian Andy Kauffmanin the splendid man on the moon (1999). Her journey to madness was reflected in the documentary Jim and Andy. It reveals that before production began, Carrey tried to contact Kaufman telepathically and that the comedian, who died in 1984, told him he would help him make the film. Carrey went so far in preparing the character that he even met a daughter of Kaufman’s that the comedian had never been involved with. The documentary details the tension of a shoot that ended with Carrey in the hospital after a fight in which he engaged too enthusiastically. “You can be your true self or dig your grave by holding on to a character you never were,” he later stated. In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes acknowledged his mistake (in his own voice) in taking his performance so far: “I was a very stupid person in this movie.”

Jim Carrey in a scene from 'Man On The Moon', in 1999.
Jim Carrey in a scene from ‘Man On The Moon’, in 1999.Archive Photos (Getty Images)

Isabelle Adjani needed two years of therapy to overcome her role in the as beautiful as extreme Possession, (1981), Andrzej Żuławski’s film made her win the acting award at Cannes, but it also plunged her into depression. “Thanks to being so young I made that film without realizing how dangerous it could have been,” declared years later. “It was a role that I could play in my twenties, but couldn’t after. I felt like someone had ripped my skin off. Possession still torments me. Psychologically, I went to scary places that I shouldn’t have gone.” (If someone wants to understand what terrifying places those were, in three minutes it is enough to see again the famous and shocking subway scene).

Linda Blair on the set of 'The Exorcist', the film that made her famous in 1973.
Linda Blair on the set of ‘The Exorcist’, the film that made her famous in 1973.Warner Bros. Pictures (Corbis via Getty Images)

Another even younger actress was forever marked by a movie, but not by getting too into character herself. Rather the other way around. the young linda blair lived with 13 years the success and controversy of The Exorcist (1973), a film that required up to five hours of make-up a day, uncomfortable harnesses to achieve the visual effects of his character’s possession, and frigid temperatures on set (in the film, possession makes it always cold in her bedroom). the girl). But according to the actress, the worst thing was her promotion, which confronted her with hundreds of journalists from all over the world asking her questions about religion and faith. When she agreed to do the second part in 1977, she asked that there be no makeup this time and no possession scenes. The movie was a resounding flop.

Anne Hathaway she also paid a heavy price for playing Fantineen The Miserables (2012). “I lost an enormous amount of weight in just two weeks. I didn’t know anything about nutrition. I damaged my body and my brain took the brunt of it. I had a lot of anxiety and felt very lost. That weight loss was not a long-term positive for my health, and I had a really hard time recovering.” declared seven years later of the shoot.

When talking about interpreters who go to great lengths preparing their roles, it is impossible not to mention Daniel Day-Lewis. During the production of My left Foot (1989), in which she played Christy Brown, a painter who suffered from cerebral palsy, learned to write and paint with her toes and maintained her character’s signature wheelchair position even when not filming, making it which caused him serious muscular damage and the fracture of two ribs. To prepare her role in The last Mohican (1992) learned to track and skin animals, build canoes, and fight with tomahawksand refused to eat anything that he had not hunted himself. in lincoln (2012), the film that earned him his third Oscar, not only stayed in character the entire time, but also required the entire crew to address him as Mr. President.

In addition, he prohibited anyone with a British accent from approaching him, he used to write his messages in the language of the time and signed them as Abraham Lincoln. Your partner Joseph Gordon Levitt He said that despite the many scenes they had shared, he could not meet the actor until the end of filming. “I never met Daniel in person,” she stated. “I only knew the president, I had only heard the voice of the president. He called him sir and he called me Robert”. But unlike what happens with Austin Butler, on the last day of production Day Lewis was back to his old self. “He showed up in jeans and a T-shirt and had a completely different voice and posture, he was a modern day man drinking a Guinness.” revealed Gordon-Levitt.

Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan in an image taken in 1932.
Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan in an image taken in 1932.Silver Screen Collection (Getty Images)

Butler’s case is unprecedented. There are actors who get trapped inside their characters. This is the case of George Raft. Although today his name says little to less moviegoers, who will probably only remember him as the Colombo Booties who chased Lemmon and Curtis in Whit skirts and being crazy (1959), in the 1930s and 1940s he was the quintessential gangster, more famous than Bogart or Cagney, but he gave his roles too much credibility. He not only rubbed shoulders with the mob, but he testified for the legendary bugsy siegel in a forgery trial. The FBI investigated him his entire life and the UK banned him from the country due to underworld involvement.

But no case of actor and character fusion is as famous as that of the actor and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. He starred in twelve Tarzan films, defined the character, and his peculiar cry was used for decades regardless of who was playing the role. With no prior acting experience and limited talent, he ended up being typecast in jungle man roles similar to the one that made him a star. He ended his days in a Los Angeles hospital scaring the rest of the patients by screaming like Tarzan in the middle of the night, lost on the border between reality and fiction. Perhaps, for Butler’s sake and the future of a career that seems promising, it would be advisable for him to end his identification with Elvis on the day the Academy awards its statuettes.

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Can a role change an actor’s voice forever? Austin Butler and other cases of extreme interpretations

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