The 32-year-old actor spoke candidly about his former partner, who he dated for nearly 10 years, during an interview with Esquire, published on 6 February. His remarks come more than a year after he faced backlash for referring to Hudgens as “friend,” while recalling she once told him that he should play Elvis Presley in a biopic, long before he was actually cast as the singer.
Speaking to Esquire, Butler went on to share his perspective about the criticism, after making the now viral comment. He also explained why he didn’t mention Hudgens’ name in the first place, noting that he values his ex’s privacy and that he still has a lot of appreciation for their relationship.
“Oh, yeah, I learned a lesson with that one,” he said. “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. I have so much love and care for her. It was in no way trying to erase anything.”
After acknowledging that he and Hudgens were together for a “long time”, he doubled down on his decision to keep the details of their romance out of the spotlight. “I value my own privacy so much,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up anybody else’s privacy.”
While featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s Actors Roundtable back in January 2023, after being nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Elvis, he first told the story about his “friend” encouraging him to audition for the role.
“I was going to look at Christmas lights with a friend, 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 got to play Elvis.’ I said: ‘Oh, that’s such a long shot,’” the actor recalled.
Shortly after that interview with published, eagled-eyed fans noticed that, back in 2019, when Hudgens was dating Butler, she had actually done an interview about him playing Presley. During an appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan, she recalled how she’d been driving with Butler when he’d started singing along to Presley. “He had just dyed his hair dark… and I was like: ‘Babe, you need to play Elvis. I don’t know how, but I’m serious. You need to play him,’” the Disney Channel alum said at the time.
As fans rediscovered Hudgens’ comments in January 2023, Butler went on to set the record straight during an interview with The Los Angeles Times, and confirmed that she was the “friend” he was talking about during the Actors Roundtable segment.
When journalist Mark Olsen mentioned the “friend”, Butler replied: “I was with my partner at the time.” He further confirmed that the girlfriend was Hudgens, adding: “That’s right. 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.”
Since breaking up in 2020, the pair have gone on to have their separate relationships, as Hudgens married baseball player Cole Tucker in December 2023 in Mexico. Meanwhile, Butler has been dating model Kaia Gerber since the beginning of 2022.
However, in March 2023, fans had mixed reactions to the former couple’s seemingly awkward interaction, while attending Vanity Fair’s Oscar Party. In a video shared to social media at the time, Hudgens could be seen looking down at her phone and quickly walking past her ex-boyfriend, without making any eye contact. As the Princess Switch star walked past him, Butler still continued to wave and blow kisses at fans who were around.