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Austin Butler Defends Calling Ex Vanessa Hudgens a 'Friend': 'I Was in No Way Trying to Erase Anything'

"I have so much love and care for her. It was in no way trying to erase anything," he said

getty (2) Austin Butler; Vanessa Hudgens
getty (2) Austin Butler; Vanessa Hudgens

Austin Butler is clarifying why he referred to ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens as simply a "friend" after fan outrage over the moment.

In a new Esquire interview, the Dune: Part Two actor, 32, explained why in a previous interview when he told a story about Hudgens he didn't name her, instead calling her a friend.

“Oh, yeah, I learned a lesson with that one. 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," said Butler.

"I have so much love and care for her. It was in no way trying to erase anything," he added.

Butler said because "I value my own privacy so much, I didn’t want to give up anybody else’s privacy."

The actor referred to his ex while discussing his Oscar-nominated Elvis role during a 2023 Hollywood Reporter Actors Roundtable conversation: "The month before I heard that Baz [Luhrmann] was making the movie, 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.' "

Related: Austin Butler Offers to Help Drew Barrymore Leave a Potentially Awkward Blind Date

<p>Robbie Fimmano</p> Austin Butler

Robbie Fimmano

Austin Butler

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"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.' Then my agent called and said, 'So Baz Luhrmann is making an Elvis film.' "

Fans online connected the dots, though, finding that Hudgens shared a nearly identical story years ago when the two were still together.

<p>Robbie Fimmano</p> Austin Butler

Robbie Fimmano

Austin Butler

"Last December, we were driving along and we were listening to Christmas music, and then an Elvis Presley Christmas song came on," Hudgens said on a 2019 episode of Live with Kelly and Ryan. "He had just dyed his hair dark. He's a natural blond, and I was looking at him and he was singing along and I was like, 'Babe, you need to play Elvis.' "

"Then in January, he was sitting at the piano," she added. "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. Like, I don't know how we get rights or what we do, but you need to play him.' "

Related: Austin Butler Says It Was ‘Liberating’ Not Having Eyebrows in Dune: Part Two: ‘They Weigh You Down’

<p>Amy Sussman/Getty</p> Austin Butler

Amy Sussman/Getty

Austin Butler

Butler and Hudgens were spotted together for the first time in 2011, and they made public appearances at red carpets after that. A source confirmed to PEOPLE that the two broke up shortly after, officially splitting in January 2020, citing demanding work and travel schedules.

Both have since moved on, Butler with model Kaia Gerber, and Hudgens with pro baseball player Cole Tucker, whom she married in December.

Butler gave a rare comment about his relationship with Gerber, 22, telling Esquire simply: "I'm happy."

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