In case you hadn't heard, Baz Luhrmann's biopic Elvis is now in cinemas. While the movie itself has drawn mixed reviews, Austin Butler's performance as Elvis Presley has attracted much praised.
Butler sang some of the songs himself and in others his voice was blended with that of the real Presley (even modern sonic wizardry couldn't get the earlier Elvis recordings up to acceptable standards, apparently).
Butler might get nominated for an Oscar - something Elvis himself never accomplished, but then he didn't make the kinds of films that attracted such attention. Playing a real person is one good way to get a nod and playing a singer doesn't hurt. Even if the biopic stories can often be cliched - rise, fall, triumph, tragedy, that sort of stuff - and largely fabricated and even if the actors don't do their own singing, the opportunity to transform themselves into a music legend is apparently enticing to actors - and Oscar voters.
Gary Busey was nominated for The Buddy Holly Story, as was Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Both Diana Ross (in Lady Sings the Blues) and Andra Day in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday were nominated for their performances as the tragic jazz singer (neither won).
Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett were both nominated as Ike and Tina Turner, repectively - in What's Love Got to Do With It (again, neither won). Meryl Streep received an almost obligatory Oscar nomination as the legendarily awful singer Florence Foster Jenkins in the movie of the same name (and did her own singing, though unlike La Jenkins she is capable of better).
Butler might even win, like Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, Renee Zellwegger as Judy Garland in Judy, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray, Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.
Sometimes the actors were credited with the singing, other times they were miming to the original artist's voice or someone else's or there was a blend. Cotillard's singing, for example, was mostly by Jil Aigrot and Foxx mimed to Charles' vocals. Unlike a lot of earlier films where actors' vocals were dubbed, this was not kept secret. Nor did it hurt the actors' Oscar chances.
Actors playing real-life singers goes back a long way.
Larry Parks played veteran Al Jolson in the 1940s in The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again, miming to recordings Jolson - who was deemed too old and too difficult for the part - made especially for the film. Parks' career was soon wrecked by the communist witch hunts but Jolson enjoyed new popularity.
Mario Lanza played one of the most renowned tenors in The Great Caruso and did his own singing.
Great Balls of Fire! was a not terribly well received biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis: Dennis Quaid did not get as much praise playing Lewis as some of his contemporaries did in their roles - Lou Diamond Phillips got an early career boost playing Ritchie Valens in La Bamba and Gary Oldman garnered good reviews, as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy.
Getting back to the King, Elvis has been played before but Elvis (1979) was a TV rather than big-screen movie, starring Kurt Russell (vocals by Ronnie McDowell) and Bubba Ho-Tep wasn't exactly a biopic, unless you believe Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell) wound up in a nursing home alongside a black JFK battling a soul-sucking mummy.
Not even the wildest "Elvis didn't die" theory could top that.