The set up of “Elvis & Nixon” is based on a true story that is one of the stranger footnotes in American history to occur in the White House. The meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon resulted in the most requested photo from the National Archives.
The King of Rock (Michael Shannon) requested an audience with the President of the United States (Kevin Spacey) to enlist his assistance in getting a badge that would deputize him as a federal agent at large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous drugs, a post which didn’t exist. The film, directed by Liza Johnson, points the absurdity of the situation but also the poignant elements of the event because it meant so much to Elvis. (The absurdity is in no small part because drugs contributed to Elvis’s death.)
On the red carpet Monday night, where the film had its New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey and Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) talked to television crews about their roles and about the film which often plays like a screwball comedy.
“On one hand it’s a real event and on the other hand it’s an imaginary event,” Shannon said. “When I say it out loud, it doesn’t even make any sense.”
At the end of the press conference earlier in the day, I asked Shannon about all the characters he’d played, and how the common thread was that most of them were portraits of intense, often creepy people. (He’s on Broadway now for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”)
“I had a stretch, like a year-long stretch where I did six or seven movies kind of back to back, and they were all fairly different. I can’t say I agree necessarily with that characterization of all my work, but I definitely am somewhat influenced by hearing that I am known for doing a certain thing. I can’t help but be slightly influenced or conscience of that, so maybe that’s gone into it a little bit. But at the end of the day, I just pick the projects I respond to.”
Shannon admitted playing Elvis was a challenge. “I was very intimidated by this project. I’m not going to lie. But it was good to have Liza, she was a good coach, you know? She helped calm my nerves a lot, particularly the first day she could tell I was freaking out. She knew what to say to make me relax.”