Kevin Spacey Reveals the Secret to Playing Richard Nixon

The actor tells Stephen Colbert all about his role in 'Elvis & Nixon.'
CBS

Kevin Spacey has his own methods when it comes to playing the American president. 

The House of Cards actor sat down with The Late Show's Stephen Colbert on Tuesday to talk about playing the commander in chief in his upcoming film Elvis & Nixon

Colbert asked Spacey about the difficulty that comes with playing such a famous leader. "He has been portrayed so many times — he's been imitated so many times. How do you do that without falling into the [making peace signs] 'I'm Richard Nixon,'" Colbert said as he went off into an "I'm not a crook" impersonation of Nixon. 

"What I did on set, just to make sure I didn't do that, is I'd go, 'Uh, I love y'all so much,'" he said to Colbert, doing a fairly good Bill Clinton impression. 

"That's a very good Abraham Lincoln," Colbert told him. 

Spacey also had to make sure he wasn't just becoming his character Frank Underwood from House of Cards. "That was the challenge, there I am in the Oval Office set," he said, "I obviously did not want to do an imitation or caricature of him, but also not have people think Frank Underwood when the see this movie." 

Spacey also told Colbert all about the history of the famous 1970 meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon that the movie brings to life. "He was very concerned about where the country was," said Spacey of the musician. "He decided that what he needed to do was to offer himself to the country, so he got on an airplane, he flew to Washington, D.C. — uninvited, unexpected." 

The only problem? "The guards thought he was an Elvis impersonator."

And though no one would initially let him into the Oval Office, in the end, Spacey told Colbert, it was Nixon's 20-year-old daughter who convinced him to meet with Elvis so that he could get her an autograph. 

"Their weird bond continued," Spacey explained, because Elvis wanted Nixon to make him "an undercover agent at large" because the artist felt "he had done many movies and understood costumes in disguise." 

"This movie is a comedy. It's just this side of Dr. Strangelove," Spacey said. "Although we play it very seriously, it is just f—ing crazy!" 

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