There’s no doubting the gusto with which Austin Butler throws himself into roles. Yes, obviously, as Elvis — and no doubt in the forthcoming Dune: Part Two and Steven Spielberg’s Masters of the Air — but also in his latest gig: as the face of YSL Beauty’s new fragrance, MYSLF.
For Butler, there is a synergetic, immersive relationship between scent and acting. Back in 2018, when he played in the Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh alongside Denzel Washington, Butler hit on the idea of applying an essential oil before rehearsals and each performance. ‘It sort of became this ritual. That smell eventually got linked to the emotions I was exploring and the memories of the character that I was building,’ he explains. ‘Smell could bypass my conscious mind and evoke those memories and emotions that I’d been working on.’ He did it again with Elvis, finding the exact cologne the King wore and using that to ‘spark the imagination’.
He ditched those scents straight after — ‘it’s part of the process of shedding the character and coming back to some sort of equilibrium, being able to wipe the slate clean and then move on to embodying someone else’.
His business might be embodying someone else (or ‘aligning your soul with their soul’ as he puts it), but the fragrance is called MYSLF. I ask him how he would describe himself, adding that after picking up how he likes to go deep fast, I’m going to ditch the ‘in five words’ part I was initially going to put to him in the name of time constraints.
‘I’m warning you it won’t be five words!’ he laughs at his own verbosity. ‘There are so many facets to any one human being,’ he says, adding that acting has amplified his realisation of that. ‘You find parts of yourself that you can turn up the volume and then realise, “Oh that is a part of me.”
I think the longer I live the more I realise that there are nuances and facets and dichotomies about me that I’m going to keep learning over time. It’s just a process of trying to stay as present with that little voice inside, the whispers of inspiration that could be drowned out if you’re focusing on, y’know, playing to the gallery or trying to mould yourself around what you think other people will like.’
Other people do have an opinion on him though; it comes with the territory. Red carpets still have a tendency to ‘make me feel anxious, but over time I think the thing that has helped me a lot is spending some quiet time beforehand and really putting everything in perspective, just focusing on gratitude’. His appreciation for ‘how lucky we are to just be alive but to also get to do what you love’ is parlayed into everything he does — even, ostensibly just promoting a perfume.
But fragrance is emotional and his earliest scented memory is one with moving resonance, calling to mind his late mother. ‘The one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately has been in the home that I grew up in, the backyard. We had this orange tree and the memory of picking oranges with my mother and the smell of the orange blossom is so vivid to me. I must have been five years old.’
And his favourite? ‘Honestly when I get back home, when I land at Los Angeles, something about the smell of the air here always feels like home. Y’know what
I mean?’ Yes, I think I do.
YSL Beauty MYSLF, from £72 for 60ml