“Elvis & Nixon,” a comedy that reimagines their unlikely White House encounter, opens in U.S. theaters on Friday after premiering at New York’s Tribeca film festival. The meeting, one of the more surreal moments in modern American history, probably best known for the photos of the two (played here by Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey) that came out of the meeting. The details were important to director Liza Johnson in bringing this world to life. But the script takes artistic license too. According to the archives, photos were taken at the start of the meeting, for example. In the film, however, it’s played for drama and almost doesn’t happen.
I wanted to be caught up in the facts in different ways than if I were making a documentary or a docudrama.
For Johnson and her actors, the fun was getting to the emotional truth of the encounter, rather than creating a beat-by-beat, court-transcript-style reenactment. This freedom leads to some very funny moments as this superstar rocker and this buttoned-up politician navigate their time together. Without spoiling too much, one power move involves some M&M’s. "The story tries to take those characters seriously and really think about what they both actually wanted out of the situation, but also acknowledge the kind of energy that comes from the absurdity of them being together,“ Johnson said.