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Austin Butler responds to backlash after calling Vanessa Hudgens a 'friend'

Austin Butler has responded to backlash after he called his ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens a "friend".

The 32-year-old star has responded to the criticism he received from fans after referring to the High School Musical star as his "friend" during a Hollywood Reporter Actors Roundtable conversation in 2023.

"Oh, yeah, I learned a lesson with that one," Austin told Esquire in a new interview. "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," the Elvis star continued of his ex-girlfriend. "I value my own privacy so much, I didn't want to give up anybody else's privacy."

During the Roundtable conversation, in which he discussed his titular role in Baz Luhrmann's 2023 film Elvis, Austin explained that his "friend," who later turned out to be Vanessa, encouraged him to take on the role of Elvis Presley.

"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,'" he recalled at the time.

Shortly after the Roundtable conversation was released, a clip from a 2019 episode of Live with Kelly and Ryan resurfaced of Vanessa telling the same story, prompting fans to slam Austin for leaving out the actress' name and seemingly discrediting their relationship.

The pair began dating in 2011 but split nine years later in 2020.

Austin is now dating model Kaia Gerber, while Vanessa recently married professional baseball player Cole Tucker.