Once upon a time, a king drove up to the gates of the White House with a letter in hand addressed to the president of the United States. His request? A meeting to discuss the crucial role he could play as an undercover federal agent at large. These true events set the scene for director Liza Johnson’s new dramedy, Elvis & Nixon.
We meet the king, Elvis Presley, remarkably portrayed by Michael Shannon in a far cry from his usual roles, on a December day in 1970. As he watches the news at his Graceland home, he becomes disgusted with the influence that drugs have on America’s youth. His “Hound Dog” heights long past, this Elvis is lonely and reserved, but he feels so strongly about this issue, he heads to the airport in the middle of the night to catch the next flight to Los Angeles. There, he enlists his good friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) to travel with him to Washington, D.C., to meet the president.
On the flight over, Elvis documents his requests on airline stationery, and at the White House gates he charms the Secret Service agents into passing his note along to the appropriate people. It falls into the hands of Nixon advisors Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), who are giddy at the prospect of meeting this musical legend. But President Richard Nixon, played with ease by Frank Underwood himself, Kevin Spacey, isn’t interested. Krogh and Chapin brief him on how being on the same team with such a celebrity could be great for his image, but he still turns down the offer. Only when Nixon’s daughter demands an autograph does the meeting move forward.
What happened during their time together in real life nobody really knows. As the film hilariously mentions, Nixon started transcribing his meetings directly after his day with Elvis. What the film does depict, however, is a very honest interaction between two cultural giants. It’s also humorous, as Elvis completely ignores all the standard Oval Office protocols, and Nixon becomes impressed—and a little starstruck—with his surprisingly informative, effortlessly cool visitor.
Elvis & Nixon is a fun film about a day in history that many people aren’t aware even happened. The only evidence? A photograph, above, that has become one of the most iconic images in presidential history.
Check out the trailer below, and be sure to catch Elvis & Nixon when it opens in theaters tomorrow, April 22.
Photos: Steve Dietl/Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street