SAG Awards nominee profile: Austin Butler (‘Elvis’) could be crowned for playing The King

At the second annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1996, 32-year-old Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas”) supplanted inaugural Best Film Actor recipient Tom Hanks (38, “Forrest Gump”) and became the category’s youngest winner. Although his standing has been threatened in recent years by Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”), Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”), and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), the record remains intact nearly three decades later. This year, however, he could finally be knocked down a spot on the list if Austin Butler (31) succeeds on his freshman solo bid for “Elvis.”

Butler is part of only the seventh Best Actor lineup in SAG Awards history to exclusively consist of newcomers to the category. He does have one Best Film Ensemble nomination (for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” 2020) under his belt, as do two of his competitors: Brendan Fraser (“Crash,” 2006) and Bill Nighy (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” 2013). Fraser, who triumphed alongside his “Crash” cast mates, is currently nominated for “The Whale,” while Nighy’s first individual bid has come for his work in “Living.” Rounding out the group are Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Adam Sandler (“Hustle”).

Butler’s performance as Elvis Presley in “Elvis” is the first of many screen depictions of the rock and roll legend to result in a SAG Award nomination. In the film, which covers practically all of the one-of-a-kind musician’s life story, the actor conveys the public and private torments Presley suffered during his adulthood as he grappled with his unprecedented celebrity status. Since most of the songs used in “Elvis” are new versions of Presley’s recordings with Butler’s voice blended in, he would be only the second Best Actor SAG Award winner to have done his own singing in his film, after Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart,” 2010).

Butler would be the third man to receive this prize for playing a real-life musician, after Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (“Ray,” 2005) and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” 2019). Two-thirds of all lineups in this category have each included multiple portrayals of real people, but Butler stands alone in his. He joins a subset that includes recent nominees Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz (“Mank,” 2021) and Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss (“Hacksaw Ridge,” 2017), as well as past winner Russell Crowe as John Nash (“A Beautiful Mind,” 2002).

Aside from Crowe, the list of Best Actor champs who played real people of any kind includes Geoffrey Rush (“Shine,” 1997), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York,” 2003; “Lincoln,” 2013), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote,” 2006), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland,” 2007), Sean Penn (“Milk,” 2009), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech,” 2011), Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club,” 2014), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything,” 2015), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant,” 2016), Oldman (“Darkest Hour,” 2018), and Will Smith (“King Richard,” 2022).

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2023 contenders in film and TV.

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