Now, don't be cruel. One of the first things viewers will notice about "Elvis and Me," ABC's two-night miniseries airing tonight and Monday, is how little the actor playing Elvis Presley looks like the rock 'n' roll icon. But there may be other reasons why Dale Midkiff has the role of the king of rock.
ABC, which kicked off the February sweeps month by televising one of the biggest events in America, the Super Bowl, presses on in the ratings war this week with a two-night miniseries devoted to the memory of another larger-than-life American phenomenon: Elvis Presley.
The miniseries is based on the book of the same title by Priscilla Presley. She is played by Susan Walters who'll be recalled from television's "Hotel" and the daytime soap "Loving."
Midkiff may be remembered for his part in "Dallas: The Early Years."
But for his role as Elvis, he may be remembered as one of the few men to assume the role while bearing relatively little resemblance to Presley.
The key to getting the part, said Midkiff, may have had less to do with his looks and more to do with his roots, which are sunk in local turf around Baltimore, Northern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
He was born in Salisbury, Md., and spent time in Baltimore, Fredericksburg and other parts of Northen Virginia while he was growing up in a family of six brothers and a sister. His father is still in Baltimore, where he manages a supermarket. His stepfather, a retired credit bureau employee, and his mother have since moved to Florida.
Midkiff recalls being shy and breaking out of it onstage in elementary school and later at Edgewood High School outside Baltimore, where he had the lead in a production of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
At Salisbury State College, he did radio work and then set off to New York to do stage work and study acting.
During those school years, summers revolved around the Eastern shore and his grandfather. He talks about those days with special feeling.
"My grandfather was captain of an oyster boat," he recalled. "I was raised around men with silent toughness. I think I have a bit of that Southern charm about me," he said, suggesting that the charm might have been a deciding factor in his getting the part of that old smoothie Elvis over hundreds of other actors and Elvis impersonators.
Midkiff is given to using words like "sir" and "mister," and the first time he met Priscilla Presley, he brought her flowers.
At the ages of 28 and 24, Midkiff and Walters are too young to remember much of Elvis Presley. "It was more my mom's era," said Midkiff. "She loved that sutff ... All I knew was that he was the king."
"People in my generation can get to know him, his charisma, thrugh this miniseries," said Walters. "I only remember him in his late years, about the time he died."
"Elvis and Me" covers approximately an 18-year period, beginning when the 24-year-old Presley met and was taken with the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu. The miniseries unfolds the story of their binding attraction for each other, an obsessive, possessive love that made Priscilla a virtual hostage to the king.
"The work we did," said Walters, "I hope it doesn't come off as melodramatic. But they had melodramatic lives. They didn't just sit and eat cheese and crackers. They did things. He had her on an emotional rollercoaster. He wouldn't let her have a career. Everything was Elvis, Elvis, Elvis. This was a very emotional role."
Priscilla Presley, who has had a starring role on "Dallas," served as a co-executive producer for the miniseries. She looked at dailies and was available for consultation but wasn't a constant presence on the set. She was heavily relied on for additional information needed to flesh out her book into a narrative.
The series was being completed on a very tight schedule -- "I think they'll be through with it on the sixth of February," quipped Midkiff -- and was largely shot in chronological sequence so that editing could be done on the early parts while later portions were still being filmed.
Midkiff said there was no actual filming at Presley's Graceland. Parts of the mansion were recreated in Hollywood, faithful to their appearance in times past. Other work was done in Quebec and Las Vegas.
In the musical sequences, Midkiff lip-syncs to Presley vocals actually sung by country singer Ronnie McDowell.
The emotional-rollercoaster theme extended to the actors. Midkiff took off to Mexico for five days after the shooting. And Walters, whose character in effect tells the story, discovered some truth behind an acting cliche'.
"Almost everyday I cried about something as Priscilla," said Walters. "When their relationship was great, it was great, and when it was sad it was awful. I thought it was an actor's cliche' to say 'I had to recharge' after playing a role. But after this show, I was emotionally flat."
Walters said she didn't respond emotionally to much of anything for sometime after completing work on the series. But she knew she was bouncing back the day she saw Holly Hunter in "Broadcast News." Each time Hunter's character had her daily, scheduled cry, Walters cried with her while everyone else in the theater laughed.
"I'm emotionally recharged now," said Walters, sounding like someone who's been surprised. "I don't need to go to Hawaii or anything."