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Naked Truth Behind ‘Naked Gun’ : Priscilla Presley Shows Off Her Laugh Lines

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Over the years, Priscilla Presley has been known for:

(a) her marriage to Elvis.

(b) her beehive hairdos.

(c) her daughter with Elvis.

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(d) her divorce from Elvis.

(e) her role on “Dallas.”

(f) her book on Elvis.

What she has not been known for is spitting.

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That’s right. Spitting.

“I really loosened up a lot doing this movie,” she deadpans, reprising the tone of her motion picture debut as Ricardo Montalban’s assistant and Leslie Nielsen’s love interest in the Zucker brothers’ latest wacky offering, “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad.” (Please see Michael Wilmington’s review on Page 10.)

“They had me doing things I never did before. Like, after a take, I’d say something and then I’d spit.”

She demonstrates. Well, actually, she only feigns a spit, complete with sound effects.

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“You could tell I wasn’t a spitter because it didn’t go anywhere but on me .”

With that, she smiles ever-so-prettily.

Believe it or not, Priscilla Presley is funny. Yet no one knows better than she that comedy just isn’t something that immediately comes to mind when her name is mentioned. “My whole life has been a drama. And people kind of associate me with that,” she sighs. “So that’s why I wanted to do comedy because it was so totally unexpected for me to do. No one would ever have thought that I would go from that into something like this.”

She pauses. “ I didn’t think I’d go from that into something like this.”

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The “that” she refers to is, of course, the whole Elvis Experience which readers of the tabloids have been hearing about ad nauseum ever since Priscilla met the king of rock ‘n’ roll at age 14, moved in with him at 16 and married him at 22.

This month alone--thanks to her movie’s opening and the sudden Oct. 3 marriage of her 20-year-old pregnant daughter, Lisa Marie--mother and daughter are appearing in an Oldsmobile commercial and also on the cover of Life magazine.

All right, let’s get it over with. What does she think of her daughter’s marriage and pregnancy? “It’s a blessing in disguise,” the mother explains. “Her getting married and having this child has somewhat relieved a lot of media pressure on her about what she was going to do with her life. It was always, ‘Is she going to follow in her mom’s footsteps? Or is she going to follow in her dad’s footsteps?’

“And she’d go, ‘Mom, what am I going to do?’ She doesn’t have to worry about that now.”

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As for the Oldsmobile commercial about Priscilla “putting her foot down” with her daughter (and the gas pedal), “it was not done for money, it was done for fun,” Presley says. “We wanted to send up all those stories about what a strict parent I am, so we saw this as a chance to make a joke of what’s been going on.”

It’s easy to understand why Presley would need some comic relief. Being the ex-wife of a cultural icon, especially one the public can’t even accept as dead, is hardly a laughing matter. Just ask her about the recent spate of so-called Elvis Sightings, and a look of genuine disgust comes over her face. “Elvis will always make a buck. Always. And I think the media are getting rich off of this by making a big hype out of it and then cashing in on it. And I think it’s a shame, really a shame,” she says.

“It’s hard to believe there are people out there who actually believe Elvis isn’t dead. But it’s not the public that started it. It’s the media. And what saddens me is that even the legitimate journalists are going for it. You even have the networks involved. I mean, it’s embarrassing. And it’s pretty sad that there’s nothing else out there for them to report. We must be in very boring times for them to start creating all these stories.”

Even the Zucker brothers briefly considered--but rejected--throwing an Elvis-Is-Alive joke into the “Naked Gun” script. “We wanted Priscilla to be believable as her character, so we didn’t do it,” says director David Zucker. “Just as we didn’t have (co-star) Ricardo Montalban in a Chrysler making a comment about leather.”

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The Zuckers wanted to play against type from the beginning when they began casting for the female lead and asked their casting directors for a list of 20 actresses not usually associated with comedy. The Zuckers were particularly interested in Presley because “we were big Elvis fans and the name held some fascination,” recalls David Zucker.

Or as Presley suggests, “that (expletive deleted) curiosity factor.”

“People are always going to say I’ve gotten a role only because of my last name. But let me tell you something, it has slammed doors just as fast as it has opened doors for me,” she complains. “If people only knew that nothing I’ve ever done has been easy. Nothing . It’s tougher for me because of who I am. So it seems like I’m always proving myself and having to fight a little bit harder for parts than everyone else.”

After three years studying with acting coach Milton Kastelas to overcome a childhood case of shyness, a TV debut on ABC’s “Those Amazing Animals” and a contract hawking Wella Balsam hair products, Presley finally hit it big by winning the role of Jenna Wade on “Dallas.”

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What she didn’t count on was spending the next five years crying tears, tears and more tears on the tube and also finding she was typecast as a TV star who “couldn’t possibly do feature films.”

Just one more not-so-young actress (she’s 42) trying for the same juicy dramatic movie roles, she narrowly lost out to other actresses again and again. Even now she can recall how badly she wanted to play the sexy female lead in “No Way Out” that went to Sean Young.

And what was Presley being offered instead? The role of the latest James Bond girl in “A View to a Kill.” She said thanks, but no thanks.

So her agents were understandably taken aback she recalls, when, after quitting “Dallas” last season and producing a TV miniseries based on her best-selling autobiography, “Elvis and Me,” “finally I said the game plan should be comedy.

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“And the first thing they said was, ‘Can you do comedy? Can you do comedy?’ ”

“She is funny,” says Zucker. “I don’t know where she dug down and came up with it. But there are moments when Priscilla takes it those extra 10 yards across the goal line.”

Co-star Nielsen admits that he “couldn’t see in the beginning” that Presley had a comedic side. “But then when I started making grotesque faces at her, and she made faces right back at me, I knew we were home sailing.

“Though,” he adds wryly, “I had to go back to my motor home when Elvis came on the set.”

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“They had me laughing at myself,” Presley explains. “I was making fun of myself. I was making fun of glamour. I was making fun of being attractive. It’s what I needed to do.”

Known for casting out of character, the Zucker brothers had Presley doing everything from physical shtick like walking into walls and falling down stairs to more bizarre bits like making love to co-star Leslie Nielsen while dressed in body-length condoms. And, always, she had to play it straight.

“It was hard. And when I started, I admit I was going for the comedy,” she says. “And David said, ‘Priscilla, you know what? Just play it straight. Like walking into the wall happens every day to you or falling down the stairs is your routine.’

“At first, I’d think, ‘This can’t be funny. Are people going to get that?’ And then we would do a scene and we would hear the crew dying of laughter, and then we knew we had it.”

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Still, she found she was treated differently from everyone else on the set of “Naked Gun” at first. “People kind of kept their distance from me. And I think it’s because they’d heard so much junk and read so much junk that they thought if you approach me, you’ll get shot by one of my bodyguards. But when they saw that I was willing to really join in and get into the humor and do all these goofy things, then all those barriers broke.”

Naturally, Presley is counting on “Naked Gun” to provide her with the breakthrough movie role she has been looking for. “I hope this will open doors and show that I am versatile enough to take challenges. And if it’s not, I’m certainly not going to wait around forever, that’s for sure,” she says.

Not to worry. For 10 more years, until her daughter turns 30, Presley not only oversees Elvis’ Graceland mansion in Tennessee but also the singer’s estate valued at as much as $100 million.

And the Zuckers are talking about casting Presley in the “Naked Gun” sequel, which already has been ordered up by Paramount.

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“She appreciates my sense of humor,” David Zucker explains. “Like, on the first day we started filming, her miniseries was on and I watched the first episode. But I wasn’t going to be able to watch the second installment, so I asked her how it ends.

“And she laughed.”


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