Austin Butler Finally Credits Ex Vanessa Hudgens for Encouraging Him to Play Elvis

Austin Butler is ready to give his ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens, whom he dated for nearly nine years, credit for being more than just the “friend” who encouraged him to pursue the Elvis role that has now earned him an Oscar nomination. After sparking controversy online for referring to her as only his “friend,” Butler called her plainly his “partner at the time” in a new interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The reporter, Mark Olsen, asked him directly about the story, saying, “There’s something else I hope you can clear up. You’ve talked about a moment even before you had the role, it was Christmastime, and an Elvis song came on and you were with a friend and you were singing along. And your friend—”

Butler cut in to say, “I was with my partner at the time.”

Olsen continued the question, “Said you should play Elvis. And people have been saying you must have been with Vanessa Hudgens. So that’s right?”

“That’s right,” Butler confirmed. “We’d been together for so long and she had this sort of clairvoyant moment and so I really, I owe her a lot for believing in me.”

Hudgens shared the story of her encouraging Butler to pursue the role in 2019, when the two were still together, during an appearance on Live With Kelly and Ryan.

Hudgens said, “Last December, we were driving along and we were listening to Christmas music, and then an Elvis Presley Christmas song came on. He had just dyed his hair dark. He’s a natural blonde…and I was looking at him and he was singing along and I was like, ‘Babe, you need to play Elvis.’ Then in January, he was sitting at the piano. And he’s playing and he’s singing and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how, but you need to figure out how you can play Elvis. Like, I don’t know how we get rights or what we do, but you need to play him.”

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While Hudgens didn’t comment on Butler’s choice to call her just a “friend,” she did comment on an Instagram about his infamous accent change last week.

In a post, Instagram user Ryan Scott suggested that Butler’s decision to speak like Elvis even after filming is part of his awards season campaign to win over voters. “He went to the Lady Gaga school of campaign acting,” Scott wrote, sharing a tweet from Page Six quoting an interview his vocal coach gave about his voice change.

“Crying,” Hudgens commented.

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Senior News and Strategy Editor

Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring New York City.