In the mid-80s, a young actor by the name of Dale Midkiff was living in a small bungalow in Culver City, among many other actors looking for their big break in Hollywood. An audition came to Midkiff’s attention for a new mini-series. Unbeknownst to him, this was the hottest role in town – the part for the titular role of Elvis in the series, Elvis and Me. While this would ultimately be the role that would change the course of Midkiff’s career, he wasn’t initially sure that he would be able to fill Elvis’s gold suit. “The night before I went in, I was hanging out with my buddy and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re poor, you’re from the south…you’re perfect,’” recalls Midkiff. His friend’s sentiment got Midkiff to the audition, where a dash of fate got him the gig.
The audition was in a studio where they were screen-testing a scene set in front of a bar. Right before calling ‘action’, technical advisor, Jerry Schilling – who had been in the Memphis Mafia and had hung out with Elvis for a decade – knew immediately that Midkiff was the man for the job. Schilling noticed that Midkiff began beating out a tempo on the side of the bar, and a chill immediately ran down Schilling’s spine. “Elvis did that before every take of every movie he ever did,” Schilling told Midkiff after the audition was over.
From there, Midkiff became completely immersed in the life of the famous singer – even getting to visit his home in Graceland. He walked the grounds, drove Elvis’s cars, and saw his bedroom – just as the icon had left it. “Aunt Delta Presley was still living there. She took me upstairs and said, ‘take as long as you want’. And, I swear to God, I don’t think I moved for 20 minutes. I was up there for a couple of hours,” said Midkiff. “All they had done was dust and vacuum. Literally everything was just left the way he left it. And, I just looked at his desk and thought, ‘There’s a pencil, I know he used that’ and then I thought, ‘Dale, you’re not taking this thing. Karmically, that would be bad,’” he remembered with a laugh.
After getting a sense of the way The King had lived, Midkiff returned downstairs where Elvis’s Aunt Delta told him that he had what it takes to portray her nephew. “[She] took me by the shoulders and said, ‘I think you’re going to make a wonderful Elvis. He was just a kind man, and I see it in your eyes.’”, recollected Midkiff. “That propelled me and got me right through it.”
The mini-series released in 1988, the same year Midkiff would act in what would, arguably, become his most famous role. He starred as Dr. Louis Creed in the film Pet Sematary, based off of the Stephen King novel of the same title. The film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and is still terrifying and delighting fans across the world. When asked about the three-decade landmark, Midkiff reflects with humor and humility. “It makes me feel a little bit ancient,” he laughed. “But very grateful. Definitely very grateful.”
In talking with Midkiff, it seems his greatest memory of working on the horror film was acting alongside the legendary Fred Gwynne. Midkiff was often invited to Gwynne’s home for dinners during filming, and became good friends with the actor. “We all loved him and he kind of kept us honest, I would say…[especially] because he was so tall,” said Midkiff with a laugh. “He was a lovely teddy bear of a man, full of curiosity and joy. He kept you on your toes.”
The continued popularity of the film 30 years later allows Midkiff – and his co-stars Miko Hughes, Denise Crosby, and Brad Greenquist – to attend conventions around the country and meet the fans who adore Sematary. “They’re all so lovely, and we would just crack each other up,” said Midkiff of his co-stars. “And we couldn’t believe that there were people standing in line, and talking to us. [The fans] were all so amazing and kind…[it was] overwhelming, almost.” On the subject of fan encounters, Midkiff spoke of a man who would come to every Pet Sematary-related convention. Twenty years later, Midkiff and the cast saw the mega fan again. “He showed up and he was older, of course, but I immediately just went, ‘Oh my God, it’s you! I love you!’ and we just hugged. It was nice.”
Midkiff has been in the acting game for 35 years and has an impressive list of credits in addition to the aforementioned roles. However, he knows that it’s not an easy path and one must be truly passionate in order to pursue it. “I told my children, it’s a very, very hard road,” said Midkiff. “But, if you have to [follow it], it has to be such a passion, that it’s almost beyond words. When I was young, that’s what I felt.”
Be sure to keep an eye out for the actor as he continues to make appearances at conventions across the country. He and the Pet Sematary cast will be making appearances in 2019 to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary.