Movie critics and Elvis Presley fans alike love Baz Luhrmann’s new “Elvis” movie, especially Austin Butler’s titular performance. But we wondered whether it passed muster with a tougher crowd: fellow Elvis impersonators.
“I thought Austin had his mannerisms and the inflections in his voice down,” said Ron DeCar, who has been marrying couples as Elvis at the Viva Las Vegas Chapel since 1999, before which he impersonated the King in musical revues at the Las Vegas Hilton, Flamingo Hilton and Tropicana.
“I know that in the movie, Austin didn’t sing everything,” DeCar said. “I know they blended his voice with the real Elvis. But I saw a couple video clips of Austin doing his screen test and he was very, very good.”
DeCar was also impressed by Butler’s look, so much so that it inspired him to order a new Elvis costume from BK Enterprises, which manufactured 33 replica costumes for the movie. (It’s Elvis’ black-and-silver “rain suit,” circa 1972.)
“They definitely picked the right guy for the movie,” Butler said.
Less Burning Love
Travis Allen, who reanimates the king seven nights a week in “All Shook Up” at the Alexis Park Resort, said he thought Butler did “a fantastic job for what he had.” When asked to clarify, he replied: “Keep in mind, I’ve been doing what I do for almost 15 years, and I’m still learning. He’s only had two. You know what I mean?”
Similarly, Elvis impersonator Pete Willcox said that, in his prime, he would have looked and sounded more like Elvis than Butler did.
“Forty years ago, I would have given Austin a real challenge,” said the 79-year-old, who hung up his Elvis cape 10 years ago. However, Willcox admits he could never have beaten Butler’s acting job.
“Austin was so true and so dedicated to capturing his essence,” Willcox said. “He’s an actor and he approached the film as an actor. It’s like he was playing JFK Jr. It didn’t matter that it was Elvis. He just embodied the character in every scene.”
All three faux Elvi said they enjoyed the film immensely, even the parts they knew weren’t true. (Elvis never fired his manager, Col. Tom Parker from the stage mid-concert, for example.)
“I think that the spirit of the King that it captures is 100% true,” Allen said.
The future of Elvis impersonating
While we had three Elvis impersonators on the line, we asked about the future of Elvis impersonating in light of the cease-and-desist letters issued by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), licensor of Elvis’ image, to several Las Vegas chapels, as reported in May by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. None were all shook up by the news.
“In my honest opinion, that was for publicity for the movie, and it worked,” DeCar said. “Every news network across the world carried that story, and they carried it for free. All these brides and grooms called us, worried that we would cancel their weddings, but it all blew over.”
According to DeCar, the company has since decided to work with chapels that employ Elvis impersonators, and they are now licensing his likeness for “very little money compared to what they asked for originally.”
The future also looks bright for Pete Willcox, who reports that he may actually get to return to the Vegas stage as the King. He said he’s currently negotiating to star in a new show that will feature Presley at all ages, including the elderly man he never got to become.
“It’s a very exciting time to be Elvis again,” Willcox said.
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