When HBO premieres Elvis Presley: The Searcher this spring, fans of the King will get an unprecedentedly deep look at his life and music, from his first forays into Memphis blues clubs to his early stardom, up through his late ’60s comeback and exhausting ’70s touring. The nearly three-and-a-half-hour-long, two-part documentary (which will also get a soundtrack released through Sony/Legacy) features new interviews with scholars, stars like Bruce Springsteen and the late Tom Petty, and -- most notably -- Priscilla Presley, who famously met the superstar when she was 14 and was married to him from 1967 to 1973.
While the film downplays the tawdrier aspects of Presley’s epic American tale, instead zeroing in on his musical evolution (though it does touch on his drug use and his relationship to famously controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker), it offers a different kind of intimacy, thanks in part to the over seven hours of personal reflections Priscilla Presley offered. “I realized she hadn't had these kinds of questions thrown at her before,” says director Thom Zimny. “And she was excited to share the details of Elvis the artist.” Presley, 72, spoke to Billboard about making what she calls “the definitive story of Elvis and his music.”
In the film, you share a great deal about Elvis that you never have before.
People know about his generosity, about his love of his mother, but he didn't have the peers he should have had. It would have been great to sit around with the guys and talk about, “My gosh, do you ever get nervous onstage? Do you miss your wife? Do you ever forget your lines?” He didn't have that.
You were so young when you met Elvis. Were your parents concerned?
Our relationship was too big for my parents; they didn't understand it. He courted me for two years before he asked me to join him in Graceland. It was two years begging my dad, until finally I told my parents, “You’re ruining my life; you have to let me go.”
Colonel Parker hangs over the film like an avenging angel.
[Elvis] was so grateful Colonel Parker took him where he wanted to go. The hardest thing was realizing that Parker was a great promoter but didn't know anything about music, or about his subject, Elvis Presley.
The film ends with Bobby Kennedy’s death and Elvis’ extraordinary rendition of “If I Can Dream” from his comeback special in 1968. What were Elvis’ politics?
Elvis was for peace. He didn't understand this whole thing with Vietnam. But he didn't get involved in politics. It was the one thing you didn't do: an entertainer was to entertain.
Elvis didn't live long enough to see your acting career. Were you sad that he didn't get to watch your films?
To be honest, Elvis wouldn't have wanted me to be in them. I don’t think he would have wanted to share [me] with anyone.
Being separated and watching him basically work himself to death -- was that painful to see again?
No. Even though we were divorced, we remained very close. We had long conversations at night. He wanted to perform, to get out. He had nervous energy. In fact, he wanted to go all over the world. He wanted to explore.