The actor opens up about the pressures of playing the late Rock 'n Roll icon and how grateful he is for the Presley family's blessing
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It goes without saying that when Austin Butler found out he'd landed the role of Elvis Presley in the new movie Elvis, he felt immense pressure to honor the legacy of the late King of Rock 'n Roll.

And while the actor has netted positive reviews for his portrayal of the late icon, receiving genuine praise from Presley's family directly — ex-wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa Marie and granddaughter Riley Keough, specifically — has Butler feeling both relief and gratitude.

"I can't even put into words how much it means to me because I felt so much responsibility to them the entire time," the actor, 30, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "That's the thing that would shoot me out of bed in the morning every day [during production]. I had no idea how they were going to respond. I was fully ready for them maybe not to want to watch it or not to like it or anything."

He adds: "I feel like I'm in a dream right now because they have been so warm and welcoming." 

Warner Bros. Special Screening of ELVIS, Memphis, TN, USA - 11 June 2022
Credit: Eric Charbonneau/Shutterstock

The high profile role is the biggest of Butler's growing career. Before landing the role in the Baz Luhrmann-directed film, the Anaheim, CA native had appeared mainly on TV in series like The Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, Nickelodeon's Zoey 101 and Freeform's Switched at Birth.

His preparation for Elvis required song and dance training, but Butler specifically relished the opportunity to get to know more about Presley the person vs. the star.

"Elvis is so well-known and there's so many people out there who know every detail about his life," he says. "The thing that I was most fascinated by was who is he when you strip all that away and who was the man?"

And although Butler says he isn't really a singer or karaoke person, channeling Presley helped him open up and develop that skill.

For much more on Austin Butler and Elvis, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

TOM HANKS as Colonel Tom Parker and AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Credit: Warner Bros.

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"I don't karaoke and I don't really sing myself, but when you are able to be someone else, then that's where I feel free. So it's a different thing," he explains. "The whole thing was quite a wild ride because I wouldn't ever sing in front of anybody except the people that were very, very close to me. And so the prospect of suddenly not just singing, but singing Elvis, I mean, that's so much pressure. So I really set out to learn how to sing as much of [the songs] as I possibly could."

The actor admits that being immersed in all things Elvis and then being embraced by the Presley family has him experiencing countless pinch-me moments.

"I'm buzzing," he says. "Just getting to experience things that I can't even believe that I'm experiencing right now. ... it is just magic."

The actor got to keep a couple of his costumes from the film, including a replica of that famous white jumpsuit, but jokes he would have loved a souvenir of the speedy variety.

"The thing that I wanted to keep was one of the cars," he says with a smile. "He just had the best cars! I wanted to take one of them home so bad."

Elvis opens in theaters June 24.