When Austin Butler finished filming Elvis, he had just 72 hours before a plane would take him to London to begin working on Masters of the Air. In just mere days, he would go from embodying an iconic rock star to portraying Major Buck Cleven, a World War II bombardier who survived a flight over Nazi Germany. "There was something comforting about knowing I could pour myself into something else," Butler said in Esquire's latest cover story.
But the transition from Elvis to Major Cleven wasn't as smooth as Butler hoped it would be. The morning after Elvis wrapped production, Butler woke up with excruciating pain. "My body just crashed," he recalled. The actor was admitted to the hospital. When he was discharged, he flew to London, then spent the following week in his hotel room bed—sick and falling in and out of sleep. On one occasion, he even coughed up blood. He studied up on Major Cleven when he could, during a healing process that took around two weeks. "I was just trying to remember who I was," he admitted, let alone move on so quickly to playing Major Cleven. "I hardly remember filming," he said of his time on Masters of the Air. "Almost the full year that I was in London."
Callum Turner, who stars opposite Butler in Masters of the Air, could hardly fathom his co-star's struggle. "I can’t imagine spending so much time with someone as iconic as Elvis and then whiplash into another show." The actors play Major Gale "Buck" Cleven (Butler) and John "Bucky" Egan (Turner), two real-life star pilots who remained friends throughout the war. The limited series, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for Apple TV+, is a spiritual successor to 2001's Band of Brothers.
In the end, Butler was able to follow up Elvis with another signature performance. "For me, I don’t know Elvis. I know him as Cleven," Turner told Esquire. "It’s a testament to his craft and how hard he works."
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