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Austin Butler Turned Down ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Screen Test to Star in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

Austin Butler had to decide between a blockbuster franchise or working with Quentin Tarantino. The former child star chose Tarantino.

During a live recording of the “Happy Sad Confused” podcast at the 92nd St Y, Butler revealed that he opted to pass on a screen test for “Top Gun: Maverick” to star in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Tarantino’s film was released in 2019, while “Top Gun: Maverick” came out in 2022.

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“I ended up having to choose between going to the screen test for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ or saying yes to Quentin Tarantino,” Butler said. “I’d already met with [Tarantino], so I did that.”

Butler portrayed a fictionalized Charles Manson cult member named Tex, who co-leads the home invasion on Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Butler was poised to do a screen test to play Rooster, the son of Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) late best friend. The role later went to Miles Teller.

Now, Butler is showing off his onscreen piloting skills in Apple TV+’s historical limited series “Masters of the Air,” executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Butler’s “Elvis” co-star Tom Hanks.

Butler told Variety that he thought the project would be a “long haul” after first reading the script centered around the WWII 100th bomb group. The series included the building of prop B-17 planes complete with cockpits, fuselage, and tail gunner positions, while the aerial fight scenes were CGI.

“The opportunity and the honor of playing these men who we owe such a debt of gratitude to — the privilege outweighed any daunting timeline of it or anything,” Butler said of the difficult production.

And all’s well that ends well because “Top Gun: Maverick” casting director Denise Chamian later cast Butler in the title role of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” for which Butler became Oscar-nominated for his performance.

“The thing that he got the closest to was ‘Top Gun,'” Chamian told Variety at the time. “When I cast that, we were looking for the role that Miles Teller played. I felt so passionate about Austin. Ultimately, his audition was shown to Tom and all the filmmakers. They agreed he had something and they were happy to know him, but they thought he was too young. At that point, I saw that this actor has something very special that other people don’t always have.”

Butler’s role in “Elvis” led to his connection to “Masters of the Air” executive producer Hanks, who encouraged Butler to join the ensemble cast for the series for his “mental health” after his Method role as Elvis Presley.

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