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Austin Butler is very, very polite about his Disney and CW background

Before Elvis, Austin Butler's career was characterized by roles on Disney, Nickelodeon, and the CW, and he sounds glad that's over

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Austin Butler
Austin Butler
Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin (Getty Images)

Now that Austin Butler’s performance in Elvis is now an Oscar front-runner, Butler’s only looking forward, and leaving his CW days behind.

It’s no secret Butler’s career started on the less prestigious, teeny-bopper networks of Disney (Hannah Montana, Wizards Of Waverly Place, Jonas), Nickelodeon (iCarly, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Zoey 101), and the CW (Life Unexpected, The Carrie Diaries). Most of his early roles featured him playing a teen heartthrob, fit with sweeping blonde hair that just made the girls swoon.

“I look back on the Nickelodeon and Disney shows that I did; even though my skill wasn’t there, I still wanted to give the energy [as if] I was going to make Raging Bull,” Butler tells Backstage magazine. “I kept that fierce dedication toward trying to find more truth, even in things where it could be easier to just phone it in.”

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Most actors (especially young ones) find themselves taking on uninteresting, one-dimensional roles at the start of their careers, and Butler certainly took on his fair share. He’s previously said he’s been “sort of embarrassed” of his career origins, but knows everyone has to start somewhere.

“I was doing these TV shows that were really fun, and some people really dug them. But I didn’t feel fulfilled as an artist,” he says. “I just wasn’t being challenged in the way that I wanted to. When you watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and then suddenly you’re doing a CW show, you kind of just... As great as those experiences were—and I’m so grateful for them and everybody involved—there was this hunger inside of me.”

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Eventually, for Butler, it became a matter of wanting to do meaningful work—or none at all.

“I’d been off for a couple of years, and I came back to L.A. and thought, I would rather not work as an actor than ever do something I’m not passionate about again,” he continues. “I didn’t work for eight months. When you don’t work as an actor for a while, your mind can go. It made me think, Is this really what I want to do?”

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His luck began to turn around when he joined 2019's Dead Don’t Die from Jim Jarmusch, followed by an appearance as a Manson family member in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It would not be long until Butler got to finally go all in on a role with Elvis (a performance that feels like an Oscar nomination shoo-in). Soon, he’ll appear as the villain Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, before starring in Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders.