Austin Butler defends calling ex Vanessa Hudgens a ‘friend’

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Austin Butler meant no disrespect by referring to ex Vanessa Hudgens, whom he dated for nearly a decade, as nothing more than an old “friend” during an interview last year.

While speaking with Esquire, the Elvis actor explained that he wasn’t trying to downplay her role in his life but rather shield her from any extra media attention.

“Oh, yeah, I learned a lesson with that one,” the 32-year-old said when asked about the label in the interview published Tuesday.

“I felt that I was respecting her privacy in a way and not wanting to bring up a ton of things that would cause her to have to talk,” the Oscar nominee continued.

“I have so much love and care for her. It was in no way trying to erase anything.”

Butler noted that the pair were together for a “long time” and told the outlet that he “didn’t want to give up anybody else’s privacy” because he values his own “so much.”

The clarification came just over a year after the Dune star came under fire for seemingly dissing the High School Musical actress, whom he started dating in 2011, during The Hollywood Reporter’s 2023 Actor Roundtable.

When asked if he had always dreamed of playing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Butler revealed that an unnamed “friend” convinced him to pursue the role.

“The month before I heard that [director] Baz [Luhrmann] was making the [Elvis] movie, I was going to look at Christmas lights with a friend,” the Golden Globe winner explained.

“And there was an Elvis Christmas song on the radio, and I was singing along, and my friend looked over at me and goes, ‘You’ve gotta play Elvis!’”

Although Butler thought it was a “long shot,” the unnamed pal — aka Hudgens — continued to push him.

“A couple of weeks later, I was playing the piano,” he continued at the time. “I never really sang for any of my friends or anything.”

“That same friend was there and I was playing the piano. She said, ‘I’m serious. You gotta figure out how you can get the rights to a script.’”

A few days later, Butler’s agent called to tell him that Luhrmann was making a movie about the Jailhouse Rock singer.

“And the hairs just stood up on my arms,” he recalled.

Although Butler never mentioned Hudgens, 35, by name, fans quickly realised he was talking about the Spring Breakers actress since she had previously told the exact same story during appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan.

“Last December, we were driving along and we were listening to Christmas music, and then an Elvis Presley Christmas song came on,” she told Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest in August 2019 — one month after her then-boyfriend landed the role.

“He had just dyed his hair dark. He’s a natural blonde, and I was looking at him and he was singing along and I was like, ‘Babe, you need to play Elvis.’”

She became even more convinced that Butler was the man for the job after hearing him sing while playing the piano a month later.

“And he’s playing and he’s singing and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how, but you need to figure out how you can play Elvis,’” she recalled. “‘Like, I don’t know how we get rights or what we do, but you need to play him.’”

Although Hudgens saw her vision come to fruition, the pair broke up in January 2020 — around the same time that Butler travelled to Australia to shoot the Oscar-nominated film.

Despite the initial snub, Butler later credited his ex for pushing him to try out for the role in the first place.

“I was with my partner at the time,” he told the Los Angeles Times a few weeks after facing backlash over the apparent diss.

“We’d been together for so long and she had this sort of clairvoyant moment and so I really, I owe her a lot for believing in me.”

Both Hudgens and Butler have since moved on from their split, with the Masters of Air star now dating model Kaia Gerber. Meanwhile, the Princess Switch actress recently married baseball player Cole Tucker.

This article originally appeared in Page Six and was reproduced with permission