Don’t expect Priscilla Presley to play another stereotypically over-the-top soap siren when she turns up on Melrose Place May 6. Bucking the show’s parade of pop tarts, Presley is downright low-key in her portrayal of Nurse Benson, a by-the-book Florence Nightingale who reluctantly falls for Dr. Peter Burns (Jack Wagner) when he enters her psych ward as a patient.
Even though Melrose writers had envisioned a ”Nurse Ratched, right out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I saw her differently,” says Presley, an unlikely grandmother of two who turns 51 this month. ”There’s already so much bitchiness on the show, and I didn’t want to do what the audience would expect.” The actress considers it a serious role, right up there with the long-suffering Jenna Wade, her Dallas character for five sudsy years, and a far cry from the sexy-silly shtick of the Naked Gun movies. (Of the friendship she developed with costar O.J. Simpson, Presley states emphatically, ”I don’t want to touch that with a 10-foot pole.”)
Melrose‘s most recent recruit in its effort to goose audience appeal never saw the Fox show until she was tapped for her three-episode stint. ”I don’t watch TV,” admits Presley, ”so I didn’t come with any preconceived ideas.” After checking out this season’s steady diet of sin, decadence, and musical mattresses on tape, she marvels at the laissez-faire attitudes toward lust: ”I can’t believe how risque TV has become — love scenes where it looks like they have nothing on? We’ve come a long way since Dallas!”
Presley has come a long way herself since she stepped into the spotlight after meeting Elvis at the love-me-tender age of 14. As president of Elvis Presley Enterprises (valued at a reported $100 million), she considers herself more entrepreneur than actress: Presley is also launching her third fragrance, Indian Summer, this September, and is developing a new clothing line, Rivers Edge. There’s even talk of a skin-care collection in her future. ”There hasn’t been a whole lot, acting-wise, that I’ve been interested in, and I enjoy being with my family more than anything,” says Presley, who lives in Los Angeles with her 9-year-old son, Navarone, and his father, Marco Garibaldi, her companion of nearly 11 years.
Of daughter Lisa Marie’s recent Vogue fashion spread — which plays up her eerie resemblance to her father — Presley says, ”I loved it. I thought they were beautiful shots.” As for the King, she’s convinced ”he’d be happy for where I am in my life. He’d be supportive of me no matter what.”