Austin Butler’s Breakout Role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave actor Austin Butler his breakout role playing late actor Brad Pitt on screen. The film takes place in 1969 Los Angeles and focuses on fading television star Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). Butler portrayed the young rising star of television and movies, Tex Watson, Who was a follower of cult leader Charles Manson. Here is a closer look at Austin Butler’s memorable performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Butler Gets the Role
Austin Butler had been steadily working as an actor for over a decade before landing the part of Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. However, it was still a dream role for any up-and-coming actor to work with famed director Quentin Tarantino. To prepare for the audition, Butler researched Tex Watson extensively by watching documentaries and reading books about him. He learned Watson spoke softly yet was dangerously charismatic. When Butler auditioned for Tarantino, he fully embodied the eerie charisma of the man. As a result, Tarantino knew right away that Butler was perfect for the role.

Portraying a Complex Character
Tex Watson played a central role in the 1969 Manson Family murders but was also manipulative and helped brainwash others into committing violence. So Butler had the difficult task of portraying someone who was both frightening yet strangely charming. He said his goal was showing how someone like Watson could manipulate people rather than simply playing him as a villain. Through subtle mannerisms and an ability to draw people in, Butler brilliantly captured Watson’s unsettling yet captivating presence on screen. Despite only having a few scenes, his performance left a strong impression.

Working with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt
Butler said the experience of acting alongside Hollywood heavyweights like DiCaprio and Pitt in his first major role was incredibly rewarding but also intimidating. However, both DiCaprio and Pitt went out of their way to make Butler feel comfortable. They provided guidance and support to help elevate his performance. Butler was in awe watching the seasoned pros at work up close. Being thrown into the fire on such a large-scale production ended up being the perfect experience for Butler to kick off his career.

Reaction and Acclaim
While some reviews only gave a passing mention of Butler’s role, many film critics singled out his unnerving portrayal of Tex Watson as one of the most memorable parts of the star-studded ensemble. His unsettling scene chatting with Sharon Tate at a party has been pointed to as particularly effective. Despite limited screentime, Butler made the most of every moment and left a lasting impression. Since the film’s release, Hollywood has been taking notice of Austin Butler and his star-making turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Roles in bigger productions started coming his way thanks to his standout work for Tarantino.

Gaining Recognition
After earning rave reviews for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Austin Butler started getting offered more prominent roles in major films. He played the young version of villainous Fletcher in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie in 2019. In 2022 he took on one of his biggest roles yet – portraying music icon Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic. His passionate performance earned serious Oscar buzz. All the attention highlighted how Butler’s role as Tex Watson forever changed his career trajectory. Where once he was a relatively unknown actor, now he is seen as one of Hollywood’s standout talents and his career is truly taking off.

Butler’s Method Acting Process
To transform into such iconic real-life figures like Tex Watson and Elvis Presley, Austin Butler employs an intensive method acting approach. He fully immerses himself in their mannerisms, voices and psychology until he feels he has truly become the person. For Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Butler studied archival footage of Watson for months until he had replicated his unsettling yet hypnotic presence. When taking on Elvis, Butler lived, breathed and slept as Elvis for over a year in preparation. His deep commitment to understanding these complex characters through method acting allows Butler to disappear into his roles. It’s this skill that elevates his performances and draws praise from both critics and fellow actors.

Butler’s Unforgettable Introduction:
A scene that left a particularly strong impression in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was Austin Butler’s introduction as Tex Watson. He is first seen silently observing Sharon Tate at a Hollywood party from across the crowded room. Their eyes meet, and through both invitation and intimidation Watson draws Tate over with magnetic yet unsettling charisma. With few words spoken, Butler instantly established Watson as a figure of calm menace through his subtle facial expressions and body language. It was the perfect way for Tarantino to introduce this character and thrill audiences with the uneasy sense that something was not quite right about this charismatic yet ominous stranger. The chilling introduction perfectly set the stage for Watson and Manson’s later crimes, with Butler communicating so much through restrained yet masterful physical performance alone. It remains one of the most haunting scenes from the film and proved what a compelling on-screen presence Butler could be.

Butler’s Journey in His Own Words:

Looking back on his breakout role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, here are a few thoughts from Austin Butler himself:

  • “Getting to work with Quentin Tarantino was a dream come true for me as an actor. His films are what made me want to pursue this career.”
  • “Stepping onto that set for the first time and seeing Leo, Brad and all those talented people was really intimidating but also so inspiring. They couldn’t have been more welcoming or generous with their time and advice.”
  • “Portraying someone as disturbingly charismatic yet dangerous as Tex Watson was definitely one of the most challenging roles I’ve had. But it was so rewarding to see that work pay off and get recognized for it.”
  • “That first scene I had with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is one I’ll never forget. To be able to establish that unsettling presence through Tarantino’s direction was really what pushed me as an actor.”
  • “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood changed my career completely. It opened so many doors and got me considered for bigger opportunities. I’ll always be grateful to Quentin for taking a chance on me in that role.”

Praise from Tarantino and Co-Stars

The praise for Austin Butler’s role came not just from critics but from director Quentin Tarantino and his co-stars as well. Tarantino said he was “blown away” by Butler’s audition for Tex Watson and knew he had found his guy. Leonardo DiCaprio called Butler’s performance “absolutely chilling” in how he depicted such darkness within charisma. And Brad Pitt said watching Butler sink into the role was “really quite stunning as an actor.” Their respect showed how Butler’s commitment to his craft delivered one of the standout performances in the acclaimed ensemble movie. It marked him as a rising star other top talents in the industry were taking notice of. Butler proved he belonged among such heavyweights in his breakout role.

Butler’s Career Trajectory After the Film
The exposure and acclaim Austin Butler gained from playing Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has led to many new opportunities and his continued rise in Hollywood. Here are some of the roles and projects he’s taken on since:

  • He played the younger version of Tommy Lee in the TV series The Shannara Chronicles.
  • Butler had a supporting role in the musical drama film Yesterday.
  • He portrayed oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in the TV drama The Gettys.
  • Butler took on the iconic role of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis, earning widespread praise.
  • Upcoming he’ll play a main role in Daisy Jones & The Six for Amazon Prime Video.

So in summary, that single unforgettable performance as Tex Watson truly launched Butler’s career into the stratosphere. It established him as a compelling actor capable of bigger roles, and has led to many prestigious projects and increased recognition ever since. His journey has been a testament to how one standout part can change an actor’s entire trajectory in Hollywood.

sydney sweeney once upon a time in hollywood

In addition to Austin Butler, another up-and-coming young actor featured in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was Sydney Sweeney. Sweeney portrays Snapper, a member of the Manson family. At the time of filming in 2018, Sweeney was just starting to break out thanks to her role on the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. However, her small but impactful part in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood helped further raise her profile in Hollywood. Playing such a dark character who was involved in the terrible crimes of the Manson family was a risk for the young Sweeney, but she dove into the role with commitment. Her scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio showed her holding her own against such an established actor. While only on screen for a few moments, Sweeney made the most of her opportunity and showcased her talent to both Quentin Tarantino and a wider audience with her unsettling performance as Snapper in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Austin Butler gave a truly haunting and memorable performance as Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that announced him as a major new talent. The breakthrough role allowed him to work alongside top stars and earn praise for inhabiting such a disturbing yet hypnotic character. Thanks to his intense commitment through method acting, Butler leaves an unforgettable impression despite limited screen time.

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