Presley and his longtime friend Jerry Schilling visited the White House for a meeting that would go down in history: The King of Rock 'n' Roll sat in the Oval Office and asked President Nixon if he could have a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Priscilla Presley would later explain Elvis' request in her memoir Elvis & Me: "The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him."
Fast-forward nearly 50 years and that historic moment is the centerpiece of the new film Elvis & Nixon, a comedy directed by Liza Johnson and executive-produced by Schilling himself. It stars Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael Shannon as Presley, and also includes Colin Hanks, Johnny Knoxville, Sky Ferreira and Alex Pettyfer, who plays Schilling.
Steve Dietl / Bleecker Street Media / Everett
On Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the film screened, Schilling opened up to PEOPLE about finally bringing his passion project to life.
"It took years," Schilling, 74, said of how long he mulled things over before finally committing to doing the film. "It's the hardest project I've ever tackled, [but] I owe it to my friend to stick in."
He added that he was told "a lot of the people close to Elvis agree" that the King himself "would feel better if you were involved" in the film.
As for his favorite memory with the King? "I miss the late-night talks," said Shilling, who met Presley when he was 12 years old and remained a lifelong friend until the music icon's death in 1977.
"My favorite time with Elvis was when it was just the two of us," said Schilling. "Staying up all night, maybe at Graceland, just talking – about girls, then politics, religion, astrology, numerology. He was so interesting. I've had a lot of special moments with him publicly, but that's what I really miss."
So what did Schilling think of Pettyfer's performance? "He got me," Schilling said of Pettyfer, whom he describes as being "so easy" to work with.
"He's a better Jerry Schilling than I am!"
Elvis & Nixon hits theaters April 22.