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‘Elvis’ star Austin Butler says the death of his mom is what connected him to the King

Butler said it wasn’t until he went deeper into Elvis’ past that he found roots to anchor himself to the character.

Austin Butler has more than singing and dancing in common with Elvis Presley.

While on TODAY with Hoda and Jenna Thursday, Butler —who plays the late legend in the upcoming biopic, “Elvis" — said he initially struggled with tapping into Elvis' character beyond surface-level elements. The actor searched for a more meaningful connection that felt personal, and he found what he was looking for: he and Elvis both lost their mothers at 23.

Austin Butler as the titular character in the upcoming biopic "Elvis."
Austin Butler as the titular character in the upcoming biopic "Elvis."Warner Bros. / Alamy

Prior to finding out that detail, Butler recalled feeling like his acting was an impersonation.

"When you first look at Elvis, he feels so much larger than life and you look at him like a god-like figure or a caricature of Elvis, and I fell into that the first month when I was trying to work on it," Butler told TODAY.

But once Butler learned that the icon lost his mom at the same age that he lost his, he found roots to anchor himself to the character and was given a window into Elvis as a person.

“When I learned about his mom — and then knowing that we were the exact same age — that just hit me,” he said. “It was just one of those things where you know the stars are aligning and that just became the most personal thing.”

Butler's mother, Lori Butler, died of cancer in 2014, he told Vogue in an April interview, and Elvis' mother, Gladys Presley, died in 1958 at age 46 from a heart attack.

Butler stars alongside Tom Hanks (Tom Parker) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Priscilla Presley) in the movie. The biopic chronicles Elvis' rise to fame while maintaining a complicated relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

The film has already gotten the stamp of approval from Elvis' family. His ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, and their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley went to the Graceland premiere on Monday alongside Lisa Marie's daughter, Riley Keough.

Priscilla, who was married to Elvis for six years, has praised Butler’s portrayal of her ex-husband. At the Cannes Film Festival last month, she noted that there was "not an empty seat in the large theater" for the screening that got a 12-minute standing ovation.

"From my understanding, it was the longest ovation ever received for a film,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “Actor Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis was mesmerizing.”