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Austin Butler Wanted to Respect Vanessa Hudgens’ Privacy When He Called Her a “Friend”

Austin Butler is clearing the air about the time he referred to his former longtime girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens as a “friend,” which many people felt minimized their nine-year-long relationship.

During The Hollywood Reporter’s 2023 Actor Roundtable — which featured last year’s awards season’s leading men including Butler, Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, Jeremy Pope, Ke Huy Quan and Adam Sandler — the Elvis actor was asked if he always wanted to play the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He responded with an anecdote, saying his “friend” had told him he should do it one day.

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“The month before I heard that Baz [Luhrmann] was making the movie, I was going to look at Christmas lights with a friend, and there was an Elvis Christmas song on the radio, and I was singing along, and my friend looked over at me and goes, ‘You’ve got to play Elvis,'” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s such a long shot.’ Then my agent called and said, ‘So Baz Luhrmann is making an Elvis film …'”

At the time, social media was in a tizzy because it was clear he was talking about Hudgens, who posted on Instagram about him being cast as Elvis Presley when the news broke, and fans felt he was downgrading the role she played in his life. In a cover story for Esquire published online Monday, Butler explained why he referred to her that way at the time.

“I felt that I was respecting her privacy in a way and not wanting to bring up a ton of things that would cause her to have to talk,” he told the publication. “I have so much love and care for her. It was in no way trying to erase anything.” He added, “I value my own privacy so much. I didn’t want to give up anybody else’s privacy.”

Elsewhere in the lengthy profile, Butler also opened up about how, when his mother died of cancer in 2014, he considered quitting acting because he “had a lot of turmoil” in his mind. Shortly after her funeral, he needed to fly to New Zealand for The Shannara Chronicles. He said he showed up, did his job and, every night after filming, would return to the hotel and sob. Once production ended, he decided to take a break for the first time in his career.

Eventually, the Oscar nominee started to believe in his path again. “He realized his mom wouldn’t want him to stop,” his longtime friend Ashley Tisdale told Esquire. “His mom would want him to keep going. I think that was a driving force. And I believe she’s seeing all of these things and is there with him now.”

Almost immediately after Butler wrapped production on Elvis, the actor was due in London to begin filming his new Apple TV+ series Masters of the Air. But the actor had spent so much time becoming Elvis Presley that it took a lot for him to come out of the person he embodied for years, despite already working on another project.

When he wasn’t in front of the cameras, portraying Buck Cleven in the series, he was working to rediscover himself. “I was just trying to remember who I was,” he told the publication. Similar to the way he had a dialect coach to adopt the Memphis drawl of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, he had one on the Apple project whose main job was to help him stop talking like Elvis.

Looking back at his time on the set of Masters of the Air, Butler admitted it all kind of feels like a blur at this point. “I hardly remember filming that,” he explained. “Almost the full year that I was in London.”

In addition to the series that explores World War II through the eyes of the Mighty Eighth Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces, the actor also has Dune: Part Two coming out this year, in which he portrays Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.

Together, he and director Denis Villeneuve worked to create the ruthless and psychotic assassin’s look, which ended up being bald, with no eyebrows and teeth painted black. Butler also wanted an accent, and Villeneuve agreed to let him do one.

When the cast — which includes Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Christopher Walken, Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem — sat down for their first table read, Chalamet said he knew Butler was next-level.

“He’s questioning everything. He’s on a mission. He’s on a search,” the Wonka star told the publication. “He’s not pretending to be the guy with answers. He’s constantly tinkering.”

Dune: Part Two hits theaters March 1.

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