The actor, a first-time Golden Globe nominee, faced stiff competition in the category, which also included Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), Hugh Jackman (“The Son”), Bill Nighy (“Living”) and Jeremy Pope (“The Inspection”).
“Oh, man, all my words are leaving me. I just am so grateful right now. I’m in this room full of my heroes,” Butler began before voicing his admiration for his “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” co-star Brad Pitt and director Quentin Tarantino.
“I owe this to a bold, visionary filmmaker who allowed me the experience to take risks and I always knew I would be supported. I love you, Baz Luhrmann,” Butler continued. “Thank you for believing in me in those moments that I didn’t even believe in myself. I’m so grateful to you. I also want to thank my dance partner, the greatest dance partner I could have ever hoped for, Mr. Tom Hanks.”
Butler also expressed thanks to Denzel Washington, who he starred alongside on the 2018 Broadway production of “The Iceman Cometh.” The Oscar winner called Luhrmann to recommend the young actor for “Elvis.” He also thanked his family, including his sister Ashley, who served as his date for the evening, his father and his late mother, as well as the family of Elvis Presley, including Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, who beamed with pride from their table in the ballroom.
“Lastly, Elvis Presley himself, you are an icon and a rebel. I love you so much. Thank you. You are remembered and I will never forget thank you!”
Butler stars as Presley in the Luhrmann-directed film, which has electrified audiences since its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last summer, where it received a 12-minute standing ovation.
During Variety’s official Golden Globes digital pre-show, Butler reflected on the “tricky tightrope” he walked in order to portray the King of Rock and Roll.
“It was the tightrope that you have to walk between all the meticulous things that make Elvis, Elvis, but never losing the spirit and the soul, and making it feel as though it’s happening for the first time right there,” he told Variety chief correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister. “Otherwise you feel like you’re at the wax museum.”
For more than a year an a half before filming began, the actor completely immersed himself in Presley’s world. In that time, Butler studied Presley’s every quirk and inflection, ultimately learning to speak, sing (it’s Butler’s voice in the film’s early performance numbers) and move like him.
Backstage, Butler addressed a question about mastering Presley’s speaking voice and whether his own accent has changed since playing Presley.
“I don’t think I sound like him still, but I guess I must because I hear it a lot,” he quipped. “I often liken it to when somebody lives in another country for a long time. I had three years where that was my only focus in life, so I’m sure there’s just pieces of my DNA that will always been linked in that way.”
In conversation with Janelle Monáe (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”) for Variety’s Actors on Actors, Butler reflected on filming his first performance number (Elvis’ 1968 comeback television special) on just the second day of production.
“It was so nerve-racking because I had a year and a half before that point to prepare. And all the preparation is for nothing if you don’t get it,” Butler recalled. “Before walking out onstage, I really had the terror: ‘My career feels like it’s on the line in this moment.’ But at that point in Elvis’ life, his career was on the line and he had terror.”
The award-winning performance marks a breakthrough moment for Butler, who’s best known for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” The Dead Don’t Die” and “The Carrie Diaries.” He recently wrapped production on “Dune: Part Two.”