The Transformation Of Austin Butler From Childhood To 30 Years Old

The following article includes mentions of depression.

Sometimes, one role catapults an actor's career into the stratosphere, and they seem to emerge on the scene fully-formed, ready to be a star. It's rare, but it does happen; think Anya Taylor-Joy in "The Witch," or even more famously Alan Rickman in "Die Hard," which Slashfilm called the best debut acting performance of all time.

That is emphatically not the case with Austin Butler's leading role in Baz Luhrmann's musical biopic "Elvis," though, which premiered at the 2022 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Reviews for the Butler's performance have been ecstatic, with everyone from Metro to IGN calling the appearance "star-making" and even tipping him for Oscars consideration. Even Vanity Fair's critic, who didn't exactly love the film, posited Butler as "the only thing that works" in the movie. Still though, Butler has been around, acting steadily over the past 15 or so years, with his career picking up steam thanks to a number of solid television performances and a high-profile, headline-grabbing Hollywood romance. "I was sort of embarrassed about some of the things that I had to do," he told Vogue, "but I had to cut my teeth somewhere. So I decided to treat each one of these jobs as a way to grow."

His hard work appears to be paying off, so just before everyone from your parents to your elderly next-door neighbor finally learns Austin Butler's name, let's take a look back at his transformation from childhood to 30 years old.

Austin Butler was discovered as a child

Austin Butler was born in 1991 and grew up in Orange County, California, an area just south of Los Angeles. He told WWD that when he was younger, he felt isolated from other children, but found music to keep himself occupied. "I was very shy and I didn't really like hanging out with other kids," the actor said. "I would spend eight hours a day playing the guitar and I was very reclusive." Part of this was doubtless due to being home-schooled. Butler later recalled to Just Jared Jr. that his father taught him, and that it definitely had an effect on his personality growing up, as he admitted, "I probably would be a little different if I had gone to school."

However, Butler loved growing up in Orange County anyway, noting that he admired the diversity of the area. "I got to meet people from all walks of life, different races and economic classes, and that was a great thing to grow up around," he said in an interview with The Orange County Register. The outlet noted that where he grew up gave Butler a leg up in Hollywood, because when he was a kid, he and his siblings were scouted at the Orange County Fair by a talent agent who liked his stepbrother's hair. "I was extremely shy, so I was going along for the ride," the star recalled.

And what a ride that would turn out to be.

He was a Nickelodeon and Disney regular

After Austin Butler and his siblings started going to tryouts in Hollywood, the future star quickly became the standout sibling. In his early years, he appeared on a number of millennial and Gen-Z childhood-favorite Nickelodeon and Disney shows, including "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide," "Wizards of Waverly Place," "Hannah Montana," and "Zoey 101." The actor was quite happy with bit parts, telling WWD, "I went on so many auditions, and you get one line in a Nickelodeon show, or a Disney show, and it feels like the biggest thing in the world."

He appeared as a recurring background character on 41 episodes of "Ned's Declassified" alone — memorably providing doves for a romantic moment between main character Moze and a boy she liked — and that part led to bigger and better things for the budding scene-stealer. "I became friends with a lot of the actors, and Lindsey Shaw [Moze] introduced me to her manager," Butler later told Portrait magazine. "... I signed with her immediately, and she got me on the right track."

His new manager helped him get a part on the classic early "iCarly" episode "iLike Jake," where he played the titular Jake, aka the object of Carly's affection. Though the character considered himself a singer, he was terrible. Fans still chuckle over the performance years later; on Twitter, one viewer wrote in 2013, "remember when austin butler was on icarly and he had a horrible singing voice so freddie autotuned him ... IM LAUGHING JUST THE THOUGHT OF IT!"

There were aliens in Austin Butler's attic

Austin Butler's first high-profile film role came in 2009, when he starred in the family-friendly sci-fi film "Aliens in the Attic." Butler played Jake Pearson, a curly-haired teen who, along with his family, has to defend his home (and the planet!) from the aliens who have moved in upstairs. Butler related to his character, telling Portrait magazine while filming, "He's definitely similar to me in the fact that he has to be the best in whatever he chooses to do." He was also excited about the film's action sequences, explaining to the outlet, "I have done some fight scenes where I got to do my own fighting. It was a lot of fun!! I've loved action movies since I was a little kid, so this is really great!"

The film paired Butler with his best friend, Ashley Tisdale, who memorialized their friendship years later on Instagram. "You've been my closest friend through the years," she wrote to her co-star in 2021, remembering, "You're the type of friend that came over when I was crying on the floor from a horrible breakup and not only lifted me off the ground but brought my favorite candy."

Unfortunately for the BBF duo, the film was a critical failure, amassing a rating of only 34% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it was doubtless supposed to signal the next step in Butler's career, it failed to launch him to the next level. That success would have to wait.

He joined Sharpay for a fabulous adventure

When Austin Butler turned 30 years old in August 2021, bestie Ashley Tisdale wrote in part on Instagram, "Remember that one time I convinced you to be in my Disney movie Sharpays fabulous adventure well look at you now!!" She was referring, of course, to a straight-to-video spinoff of the "High School Musical" series, a film that revolved around her ultra-diva character, Sharpay Evans, being scouted by a talent agent (via Rotten Tomatoes). Butler played Peyton in the film, Sharpay's love interest.

While promoting the 2011 flick, Butler said he felt a lot of pressure to live up to the reputation of the original "HSM" franchise. "Because of the success of the other movies, and how much people love them, you do sort of feel ... 'I hope this is good, too!' It's so easy to sort of fall into that trap, and that's why I just had to keep telling myself, 'Focus on today. Focus on this work.'" Butler said he was ultimately happy with the way the film turned out.

A young YouTuber who spoke with Butler at the movie's premiere described him as "friendly, nice, and down to earth" — all great qualities to have for an actor on the come-up. 

Austin Butler introduced Vanessa Hudgens to Hillsong

In 2009, while filming "Aliens in the Attic," Austin Butler told Portrait magazine that the biggest thing he looked for in a girlfriend was "that being able to have good conversations is really important." Two years later, he put that requirement to the test when, fresh off her breakup with "High School Musical" co-star Zac Efron, rising starlet Vanessa Hudgens began dating Butler. When their relationship went public in early 2012 thanks to a courtside make out at a Knicks game, the Daily Mail reported that they had actually met on the "HSM" set — presumably thanks to Butler's aforementioned friendship with Hudgens' co-star, Ashley Tisdale — but they didn't start dating until many years later. 

While they were together, Hudgens told The New York Times that Butler had helped her reconnect with Christianity by introducing her to worship services at Hillsong, which she said ​​​​"feels like Arcade Fire — it's epic like that." The controversial church with a strong Hollywood following has infamously been accused of racism and homophobia in more recent years. But as of this writing, it's unclear whether Butler or Hudgens are still members.

Back in the day, however, the "Sneakernight" songstress shared regular photos of herself, Butler, and the Hillsong crew on Instagram, captioning one 2013 snap with, "Love these people with all my heart. Thanks @hillsong for my new home." Disgraced Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz, who famously baptized Justin Bieber and appeared shirtless with him in numerous paparazzi photos, also posted a pic to Instagram alongside Butler that same year, calling him "James Dean 2.0." 

He was Carrie Bradshaw's first love

In 2013, Austin Butler landed a role on "The Carrie Diaries," a high school-set "Sex and the City" prequel that aired on The CW. Butler played Sebastian Kydd, the show's main heartthrob. Asked by The TV Watchtower to describe Sebastian in one word, Butler had an unusual answer. "Leather, for some reason," he said. "He wears a leather jacket."

It seems that filming the show was a great experience for Butler, even though it only lasted two seasons. He got along well with his fellow castmates, telling Just Jared Jr. that he was particularly close with AnnaSophia Robb, who played Carrie Bradshaw, the role first made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker. "AnnaSophia and I now have this dynamic where we can just sort of be knuckleheads with each other and not take ourselves too seriously," Butler said. "It's very fun and she's so down to earth."

He also told Cosmopolitan that he was in a good headspace while "The Carrie Diaries" was on air, which evidently hadn't always been the case behind the scenes. "I went through a period when I was rebellious and a mess of a person," the actor confessed. "I'd swing from happy to depressed, and I realized the patterns of my mental state were contingent on the feelings I was allowing in my head." Instead, he started a new routine of daily gratitude journaling and morning walks, which Butler said had turned his mood around while filming the show. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Love got Austin Butler in trouble

In 2016, Austin Butler and Vanessa Hudgens' relationship made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Baby V posted a photo on Instagram showing a heart carved into a red rock with both of their names inside. "Happy Valentine's Day boo boo bears," Hudgens wrote in the since-deleted caption, as captured by Yahoo! Entertainment.

The issue with this? Carving rocks like that is illegal at the Sedona Red Rocks in Arizona, which is where the couple evidently made their mark. Another photo posted by Hudgens at the same time featured the hashtag "#sedonadreams," which effectively led to the couple telling on themselves. Oops! A Coconino National Forest spokesman said in a statement that they were investigating the incident, telling CNN, "We have found that when one person carves something, it encourages others to carve. Carving of any kind affects the natural beauty of the area."

Hudgens ultimately paid a $1,000 fine, according to The Guardian, after admitting that she had indeed made the carving on the rock. 

He was injured on set of The Shannara Chronicles

2016 also saw Austin Butler star as a half-man, half-elf named Wil in MTV's adaptation of Terry Brooks' "Shannara" book series, titled "The Shannara Chronicles" for television. However, the actor didn't understand the popularity of the fantasy series until after he'd been cast, telling Collider, "More and more people started talking to me about how excited they were about it and how they'd been a fan of the books for years. That was really cool." Indeed, Butler appeared at Comic-Con to promote the series, where numerous fans told him how much the books meant to him when they were younger. "It was really, really touching," he said.

As with "Aliens in the Attic," Butler was particularly excited about the action involved in the show, which would ultimately last for two seasons. However, one scene in particular saw the actor injured; his character was meant to be pulled along behind a bunch of horses, and something went wrong with the mechanism that was supposed to keep him safe while performing the stunt. "I'm bouncing on hard dirt and the bouncing caused the safety rig to pull apart and this metal thing whacked me in the face and cut my nose," the star told ShowbizJunkies.com. "... We ended up having to just do it with the regular rope because the safety rig was actually hurting me worse." Butler added, "I thought I broke my nose that day." 

Austin Butler made his Broadway debut with an acting legend

In 2018, Austin Butler made his Broadway debut, per Just Jared, in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's classic play "The Iceman Cometh." He received critical raves for his performance, including in The New Yorker, which called Butler the only actor in a cast of performers. Not bad praise, considering he shared the stage with none other than Denzel Washington! 

Butler later told GQ that he was hoping to be friends with the legendary star, but he decided just to do the best job he could, which involved memorizing the entire script and showing up to work earlier than everyone else. This got Washington's attention. "It's just Denzel and me in this empty theater," Butler recalled. "He started giving me acting advice and he really took me under his wing. He'd start telling me thoughts about the scene, and suddenly I've got Denzel almost as an acting coach."

Washington was so impressed with Butler's talent that he reached out to Baz Luhrmann, director of the then-upcoming "Elvis" biopic. Luhrmann told Entertainment Weekly that he saw a video of Butler performing "Unchained Melody," and then the phone rang. "I got a call from Denzel Washington, who gave me a cold call," he explained. "I did not know Denzel. And he said, 'I've just worked with this guy on stage. I've never seen a work ethic like it.'" Luhrmann decided to meet with Butler, and he soon realized he'd found his Elvis Presley.

Once upon a time ... Austin Butler played a killer

After a career spent mostly in television, Austin Butler got a big break when he was cast in Quentin Tarantino's 2019 film "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood." He played a mangy, murderous member of the Manson family, Tex Watson, one of the hippies who killed movie star Sharon Tate and several others in real life. Butler told Variety that it was difficult to leave the part behind at the end of the day, explaining, "The role itself requires me to dig into human things that are conflicting. ... Profoundly monstrous things were done. But then, at the same time, I would have a lot more reservations about doing it if it wasn't Tarantino."

Working with Tarantino was a major step up for Butler's career, and it meant an unusual audition process. Butler recalled to The Hollywood Reporter that he flew out to meet with the "Pulp Fiction" director for 12 straight hours, and he left the meeting knowing he had the part. On set, Butler praised the approach to filmmaking, explaining that the acclaimed director often required more takes than were necessary. While some directors do that because they are perfectionists, Tarantino's reasoning was different. "The mantra that Quentin has on set is that once you get the take you want, we're going to do one more and you know why? Because we love making movies and everybody screams it," Butler recalled. "... He's created such a wonderful family of people."

The actor split from Vanessa Hudgens

For much of Austin Butler's relationship with Vanessa Hudgens, she was by far the more famous one; many mentions of Butler in entertainment media merely referred to him as Hudgens' boyfriend. However, by 2020, the balance of power had started to shift, and the two announced that they were going their separate ways. 

It seems that both members of the couple being jet-setting movie stars put too much pressure on their schedules, with a source telling E! News, "They're just shooting on two different continents and it's a matter of distance." At the time, Butler was in Australia filming Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" biopic, while Hudgens was involved in another installment of her hit "Princess Switch" franchise for Netflix. "There is no bad blood at all, and they have a lot of respect for each other," the insider insisted. Though E! News suggested they might have been headed for a reunion, both went on to quickly date others. According to a source cited by Life & Style the following year, Hudgens was "totally cool" with Butler's next relationship (more on this below), adding, "She has moved on." 

Meanwhile, he publicly addressed the breakup years later in an interview with GQ about "Elvis," remembering that time as a pivotal one in his life. "Life is full of changes, and you've got to find a way to constantly be evolving and growing," Butler said. His style was evolving, too; the formerly-blond heartthrob was now wearing his hair black in a preview of things to come.

Austin Butler became a face of Prada

In 2020, perhaps sensing that his long climb to the top of Hollywood was finally nearing peak name-recognition, Prada tapped Austin Butler to star as one of the faces of their SS20 collection. According to Wonderland, Butler appeared in the ad campaign alongside iconic names like Frank Ocean, and the campaign attempted to redefine the brand in accordance with their spokesmodels, turning the iconic mononym into an acronym.

One image in the campaign, for example, featured two photos of Butler wearing the fashion house's clothes; "Pursue Randomness And Dichotomies, Always," read the ad copy. (Get it?) Another ad, shared on Instagram, tied Butler in with the brand more directly. The caption read, "Austin Butler is Powerfully Refined And Delicately Asymmetrical. So is #PRADA." 

The SS20 ad campaign was the start of a fruitful relationship between Prada and Butler. He wore their clothes to the 2022 Met Gala (via British GQ), and he shouted out the brand on Instagram, writing, "First Met Ball. Thank you @prada." According to W magazine, Prada even created many of the costumes for "Elvis," the Baz Luhrmann biopic in which Butler was tapped to star as the iconic musician that same year, skyrocketing his career to the next level.

He's dating a fellow model

A year after he split from longtime girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens, People reported that Butler had been spending a lot of time with Kaia Gerber, socialite and model daughter of Cindy Crawford. Over the next few months, the duo — who have a 10-year age gap — spent Valentine's Day together in London (via Just Jared) and were spotted leaving a Paris hotel together, per the Daily Mail.

They finally made their red-carpet debut ahead of the Oscars in 2022. W magazine posted a pic of Butler kissing Gerber on the cheek at the magazine's iconic Best Performances Party — making things officially official, as though we hadn't been able to pick up on all the clues! Within the following few months, they couldn't seem to keep their lips off each other in public; Butler and Gerber were spotted kissing at the Met Gala and locking lips at the Cannes Film Festival's premiere of "Elvis," according to Glamour.

However, even though the relationship had played out in tabloid headlines, Butler told GQ that he wasn't a fan of the paparazzi photos of them together while going about their lives, and in fact couldn't stand paparazzi-ism as a profession. He also kept tight-lipped about how the relationship was going, simply telling the interviewer, "I don't think there's anything I want to share about that. But thank you for providing the space."

Austin Butler has a role fit for The King

Around the time of the June 2022 release of Baz Luhrmann's biopic of Elvis Presley, Austin Butler talked with Elle Australia about his emotional meeting with Priscilla Presley before filming, as well as the advice the woman who used to be married to The King shared. First, she told him to keep in mind that he had "big shoes to fill," with the "Elvis" star recalling, "And then she hugged me and said, 'You have a lot of support.'" Luhrmann, too, was ecstatic about his lead's performance and the effect it already seemed destined to have on his career, comparing him to a young Leonardo DiCaprio just before the release of "Romeo + Juliet," which Luhrmann also directed. The man behind "Moulin Rouge!" told British GQ, "The good thing is [Butler's] 30 so he's got a little bit more maturity about him. ... But it's happening."

As of this writing, Butler's press tour for the film has been admirably over-the-top, which would doubtless make the late rock superstar proud. The California-born actor has even retained his Southern "Elvis" accent, a mark of fascination in interviews. "You spend so much time obsessing about one thing, and it really is like muscular habits, your mouth can change!" Butler insisted to Elle Australia. He's also made headlines for speaking about how he was hospitalized once filming concluded, telling GQ, "My body just started shutting down the day after I finished 'Elvis.'"

Austin Butler's body may have shut down, but it seems his career is really just getting started.