In many ways, The King is a movie about Elvis Presley. Throughout the thoughtful, moving documentary, out June 22 from director Eugene Jarecki (The House I Live In, Reagan), the story of how the young man born in Mississippi went on to become a global superstar is told by a dazzling array of fans including Alec Baldwin, James Carville
Here Jarecki tells T&C about how he acquired one of music's most famous automobiles, what he learned from making this movie, and what Elvis Presley has taught him about the future of our country.
How did the idea of using Elvis Presley as a window into the American experience—including things happening four decades after he died—come about?
Very often, the movie you end up making comes out of the previous movie you made. Over the course of my career I’ve made the American Dream my focus, and
Elvis Presley in the army.
Were you always planning to make the movie play out over the course of a cross-country road trip?
I was on the road promoting a previous film and showing it to audiences across the country, and every now and then I would talk about America in a sort of metaphorical way, linked to Elvis Presley, and I saw that that connected with people. One day I was making such a speech in a mill town in Pennsylvania and an older man came up and he said, “Is that your next film? That idea really struck me hard.” And then shortly the idea of the film was born. That was long before the idea of a road trip, that came later.
At what point did the car come in? How do you even go about getting Elvis’s Rolls Royce?
Well, we were making a film about Elvis and it was a poetic film and a reflective film, but all of a sudden it became possible to put a real engine under the hood of that film when this car became available. The movie
A scene from The King.
If I had driven a Cadillac across the country, I could’ve made a nice biopic of Elvis, but it wouldn’t have broken new ground and it wouldn’t have made you think twice at how we got where we are today in America. Whereas the Rolls Royce is a car fit for a
You mentioned David Simon, and one of the interesting things as a viewer of the movie is to see the various characters who have really big thoughts on Elvis in a way that you might not expect. How did you do your casting?
Everywhere we went, we would roll into town without a Rolodex and without an agenda and without a plan, and there was something appropriately innocent and open about that. I think if we’d had more of a plan or a script, the film would’ve run the risk of being too made-to-measure. And I didn’t want anything prefab, I wanted home-cooked, whiskey, anything-could-happen jeopardy in this film. I wanted to know that the car might break down, which it did many times.
This is a deep dive into the meaning of America as well as being a biographic look at aspects of Elvis’s life, so I knew there were certain key people in his world that you couldn’t do without. You couldn’t make a film about Elvis without his best friend Jerry Schilling or George Klein or Scotty Moore who was in his band. You couldn’t make a film about Elvis, to the contrary, without talking to Chuck D, who represents in many ways the modern critique of Elvis. Everywhere we went, we would find key personages who brought a certain quality of the place and therefore the quality that Elvis’s time in that place brings to his emanation story.
What did you come away from this with that you hadn’t expected to?
If you’d asked me that a year ago, it would be different than what I’d answer today. If you ask me it today, the most surprising thing I took away from the film was optimism. If you take the metaphor in the film to its logical conclusion, it would’ve appeared that Elvis had died on the toilet. That America’s days had come to a close, its democracy. Now we were entering a strange new chapter as some sort of warped, gold-plated oligarchy. I didn’t think that I would possibly feel, over the time between then and now, the kind of renewed optimism that I have come to feel.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.