Jacob Elordi vs. Austin Butler: Battle of the Elvises

The rising stars both have portrayed Elvis recently, but who did it better?

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published November 13, 2023 5:32PM (EST)

Jacob Elordi as Elvis in A24's "Priscilla" | Austin Butler as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures's "Elvis" (Photo illustration by Salon/Warner Bros Pictures/A24)
Jacob Elordi as Elvis in A24's "Priscilla" | Austin Butler as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures's "Elvis" (Photo illustration by Salon/Warner Bros Pictures/A24)

The Elvis Presley resurgence shows no sign of dying quite yet. From Disney channel veteran Austin Butler's campy performance in Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" to Gen Z's favorite "Euphoria" villain Jacob Elordi's menacing, charismatic take on the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla" — both performances are incredibly different. At least one of the heartthrobs has played your favorite Elvis.

The movies "Elvis" and "Priscilla" serve different needs, audiences and stories. "Elvis" singularly tells the romanticized biography of Elvis Presley through the lens of his manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). It is a weird, visually engaging take on the story of the boy from Mississippi who transforms into The King. In contrast, "Priscilla" tells the story of his only wife and longtime lover Priscilla. It documents the 14-year-long phases of their occasionally romantic but most times grooming, tumultuous relationship.

Again, the contrast between the movies poses the question: Which Elvis is better? Is it Elordi for his charisma as Priscilla's dominating long-time lover or Butler's commitment to embodying Elvis in every way possible from the hair, voice, movement and singing? Let's take a look at how the two transformed into the King of Rock and Roll.

The classic Elvis look

When it comes to aesthetics, Luhrmann's vision for Elvis was crystal clear and effective. The uber-specific glittery Elvis residency costumes and dark charcoal makeup transformed the blond former Disney channel and Nickelodeon star into what was an eerie-looking Elvis. Butler played Elvis from his this teenagehood to his last years of life, going through many different prosthetic changes. Designer Mark Coulier said, "Austin Butler’s wearing a chin piece all the way through the movie right from the beginning, and then we added cheekpieces and a jawline for when he is in Vegas." Butler nails the physicality of Elvis in these outlandish one-piece outfits, and this is where he shines. The resemblance is uncanny.

Whereas Elordi's Elvis only really exists in the time frame of his relationship with Priscilla. He's in his 20s in "Priscilla" and it shows. He looks like a heartthrob in most of his scenes with his jet-black hair slicked back in his classic '60s movie star look. In this era of Elvis, Elordi shines. But when the film jumps towards the end of Priscilla, and he ages, Elordi who now has the longer Elvis sideburns and grown-out shag, no longer really looks like Elvis which is very different from the pitch-perfect image that Coppola crafted in Elordi's young, rockstar image at the beginning of the film. So in this round of Battle of the Elvises — to me, Butler wins solely due to the emphasis on his looks throughout the decades and just the dedication to shaping Butler to be Elvis.

The infamous voice

The most contentious part about playing Elvis is nailing his deeply specific Mississippi southern drawl. Famously, Butler's voice inexplicably shifted from his more nasally California vocal fry to a deep-toned sensual southern accent. The actor was endlessly trolled, with netizens wondering why on earth Butler still sounded like Elvis years after production. Which then raised the question if he was putting on an accent to continue to stay in the conversation as awards season and campaigning continued. The actor spent two years with a vocal coach to perfect Elvis' speaking and singing voice. Yes, that's actually him singing in the movie.

Butler told People: "I don't think I sound like him still, but I guess I must because I hear it a lot." He shared in GQ that he lost himself in the role. "And I definitely had that when I finished Elvis – not knowing who I was."

But with Elordi, the voice seemed to come naturally because he said he was "lucky to kind of be in his register anyway." He said in an interview with GQ that he stayed in the voice the entire time he was on set. But most importantly, the real-life Priscilla approved. “She said I got the voice right,” Elordi said, “which was everything I needed to get.” 

In the case of the iconic Elvis voice, when it comes to his speaking voice, I vote that ultimately Elordi's drawl felt like the right tone and cadence. Whereas at points in the film, Butler's just felt a little cartoonish. But his singing voice was an incredibly strong point.

Overall performance

If we take a look at overall performance, Butler swept the awards circuit with a plethora of nominations, a Golden Globe win for best actor and critical praise. His performance is hands down the best part of the strange film that mostly focuses on his manager the Colonel instead of its main character Elvis. As I watched the nearly three-hour film, there were points where I almost fell asleep but when Butler found his way back onto the screen my attention immediately came back. His strongest points were scenes of Elvis performing on stage in many different phases of his life from adolescence to adulthood. Butler embodied the soul of Elvis' musical gifts and his electric live performances. A standout scene for me was when Butler's Elvis was rehearsing his residency set. In that scene, it depicted the talent that lived in Elvis and the talent that currently lives in Butler.

But to me, nothing beats the stellar and surprising performance from Elordi. No offense to Butler's performance but Elordi's take on Elvis is subtle and lived in compared to the Method acting Butler clearly used to inhabit Elvis for what felt like years — I mean that voice followed us everywhere. In contrast, the Australian Elordi tricks his audience into almost falling in love with the wickedly charming and abusive Elvis. His chemistry with co-star Cailee Spaeny seals the deal as they travel through the growing pains of Elvis and Priscilla's toxic love affair. Elordi's magic lies in his ability to convince the audience and lure us into a sense of security that Elvis is a good guy until he spits vitriol at Priscilla or throws a chair toward her head. Elordi was almost too good in this role. It concerned me how easily he was able to slip in and out of the complexities of a man like Elvis. So ultimately, for me, in Battle of the Elvises, Elordi edges Butler out.


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Austin Butler Commentary Elvis Elvis Presley Jacob Elordi Movies Priscilla