Book Smart: Oscar Reads “Frost/Nixon”


Oscar time and Hollywood goes all highbrow on us, taking cues for Tony Award nominated, dramatic the-a-ter. Sure, you saw the movie, but what do you know about the play?

In Frost/Nixon, Richard Nixon and David Frost (British satirist-slash-serious-news-guy who used to be huge in the 70s) face-off on national TV after Dirty Dick’s fall from grace. Adapted by Peter Morgan from his own play, the flick is up for five Oscars including Best Pic and Best Actor for Frank Langella, who actually makes you feel sorry for the former crook/prez in a weepy Shakespearean tragic sort of way.

The Play’s The Thing
Ironically, Morgan says he wrote the play because he wanted to pen something that could never be a movie and “breaks every single rule of screenwriting.” Um, ha ha, Opposite Day?

These are the basics of his original script:

  • most of the action that takes place in one single room
  • two narrators, James Reston Jr., based on an aide to Frost, and Nixon’s right-hand man Jack Brennan, give background info directly to the audience, rather than developing the story through scenes
  • a gripping showdown where the two players do not leave their chairs

Silver Screen Linings
Rather than fighting the anti-movie structure of the play, director Ron Howard embraced them. “I think the tight quarters and the intensity, particularly in the second half, are a huge dramatic asset.” Still, some things had to be adapted for film:

  • setting some scenes outside (yes, sunshine, always good)
  • a raft of new characters who each have their own voiceover, so instead of just Reston and Brennan, you get a cornucopia (or, cacophony) of perspectives
  • the showdown is still in chairs, but Howard uses suspense-building camera work to keep it from seeming like, well, a filmed play

Fun Fact:
Both Langella and Michael Sheen, who plays Frost, played their roles in the 2007 Broadway production; Langella was nominated for a Tony.

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