The Tony award winning play takes the big screen by storm
Director Ron Howard hits another homer with his adaption of the Tony award winning play, Frost/Nixon. Legendary character actor Frank Langella reprises his role of Richard Nixon from the stage. Michael Sheen, not Charlie and Emilio's father, co-stars as David Frost. He also played David Frost in the original. The film depicts the historical interview between Frost and Nixon in 1977. Nixon had been silent about Watergate and his presidency. Frost's interview was the first time the world had heard from Nixon about his sordid exploits. The verbal interplay between the two actors as they struggle for the upper-hand is superb. Ron Howard smartly lets his actors carry the film and does an excellent job of simulating the conditions at the time. See below for his thoughts on directing Frost/Nixon.
What was it about the play that made you want to adapt it for the big screen?
Ron Howard: I knew that there was a real competition brewing for the rights to the material. When I watched the play, I was surprised all over again at frankly how entertaining it is. It's suspenseful. I found it suspenseful. I found it funny. I was hearing the audience respond in a really involved way. And I also found myself reliving the experience, having watched the interviews. I was rediscovering them watching the play, sort of realizing how brilliant a man Nixon really is. Realizing he had a lot of tough decisions to make. What really went on? And in the end, coming to that momentum where Frost had exchanged with Nixon - it's so revealing, and for me it was so cathartic. Frank and Michael are powerhouse actors. I could look anyone in the eye and say I would commit to making the movie. I had a clear sense that the adaptation would work. I knew they'd be great in the movie, and I would make the movie with them.
Talk about recreating the locations and setting of the interview?
Ron Howard: It was exciting to be able to shoot at the Cinerama Dome, which is where David Frost really did have his premiere of "Slipper And The Rose" while he was prepping for the interviews. We shot the exterior of Casa Pacifica. We didn't shoot inside President Nixon's home, but I think it meant a lot to the cast and a lot to me to that we were filming in the environment where so many events occurred. We also shot at the Nixon Library, the scene where President Nixon is getting on the helicopter. We even found in researching it that the pilots who flew Nixon away were around. They were in California. You don't really see them in the movie, but they were there in the cockpit. Re-enacting that moment, that was great for all of us. We kind of got chills doing it. It was also terrific for our budget, because we didn't really have the money to fly a helicopter or recreate that, so it was a good find for us on the low budget side of our production.
Frank Langella's interpretation of Richard Nixon is brilliant...
Ron Howard: I had initially seen Frank and Michael perform at the Donmar Theatre, which is a very small venue, brilliantly staged by Michael Grandage. The performances were much more immediate because the front row is from me to you at Donmar. Then it moved to the West End, a bigger venue, and then it moved to Broadway, an even bigger venue. I just wanted to get the menu of performance levels into the editing room that they had to offer. I sort of did the same thing with Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind", fully explore this guy's madness, and then let me go and modulate it. So I was saying less to Frank because we'd already seen a bigger, bolder choice, and I wanted to see how nuanced, how subtle it could be. And in many instances those choices really did work. And I think he was probably surprised how much the lens was picking up.
How do you think these events would play out today? Has anything really changed from the 1970s?
Ron Howard: That's a really good question. Peter Morgan didn't write the play, nor did I want to direct the movie to draw parallels between the abuses of power in the Nixon administration and the alleged abuses of power in the Bush administration. I would hope the press would get after the Nixon administration in the same way that they did. Because the point that Frost made is - whether you succeed in a crime or not is not the issue. The fact that you're committing a crime needs to be acknowledged. I think we all run into a trap. I do. I felt this way watching the interviews in 1977. Of feeling like - well, come on, it's a tough job, and it's complicated beyond what we can imagine. And of course they've got to bend the rules. And there's some logic in that. But by the same token, that's a pretty slippery slope, and I think it's important that the press be there in a democracy to keep asking those questions. Where is the truth? How far have they gone?