Austin Butler: I Had to ‘Choose Between Going to the Screen Test’ for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ or ‘Saying Yes to Quentin Tarantino’

How do you choose between Tom Cruise and Quentin Tarantino? It’s a dilemma Austin Butler faced before his Oscar-nominated performance in “Elvis” turned him into a global star. During an interview on the “Happy Sad Confused” podcast (via People) while promoting his new Apple TV+ series “Masters of the Air,” Butler confirmed reports he was in the running to star opposite Cruise in the blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“I ended up having to choose between going to the screen test for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ or saying yes to Quentin Tarantino,” Butler said.

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Tarantino had offered the rising star a role in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.” Because Butler had wanted to work with the “Pulp Fiction” director “for so long,” he wasn’t going to let a potential Tom Cruise blockbuster get in the way.

“I’d already met with [Tarantino], so I did that,” Butler said of his decision, which led to him playing Charles Manson cult member Charles Watson in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”

It was a smart decision on Butler’s part, as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” casting director Denise Chamian previously told Variety that the “Top Gun” team ultimately felt he was too young for the role of Rooster, which ultimately would be played by Miles Teller. But meeting Chamian during the “Maverick” casting process put Butler on her radar for “Elvis,” so it all worked out in the end.

“The thing that he got the closest to was ‘Top Gun,'” Chamian said. “When I cast that, we were looking for the role that Miles Teller played. I felt so passionate about Austin. Ultimately, his audition was shown to Tom and all the filmmakers. They agreed he had something and they were happy to know him, but they thought he was too young.”

“At that point, I saw that this actor has something very special that other people don’t always have,” she added. “It’s almost the way he looks into the camera. He knows the camera and lets the camera see him, and that is really what is so captivating.”

Both “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” would go on to be box office successes and awards season contenders, with the former grossing $1.49 billion to become the 11th highest grossing movie of all time at the worldwide box office.

“Normally I don’t talk about new movies that much because then I’m only forced to say good things, or else I’m slamming someone. And I don’t want to do that,” Tarantino said on CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast in August 2022. “But in this case, I fucking love ‘Top Gun: Maverick.’ I thought it was fantastic.”

Butler’s “Masters of the Air” starts streaming Jan. 26 on Apple TV+. He’ll be back on the big screen in “Dune: Part Two” on March 1.

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