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FROST/NIXON

Before The Production
Playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan was first drawn into the world of Sir David Frost and Richard Nixon in 1992. He had seen a televised biography of the broadcaster and was fascinated by what Frost had been able to accomplish with his infamously canny subject during the 1977 series The Nixon Interviews with David Frost. As he relayed to Richard Brooks in a Sunday Times piece in July 2006, the writer was "driven by this image I had of these two men. The glamorous Frost, 54,000 feet up in the air, going backwards and forwards over the Atlantic on Concorde. And Nixon, a man living, metaphorically, in a cave, withdrawn and in disgrace.”

Long interested in examining the humanity of complex world figures such as Queen Elizabeth II, Idi Amin and Henry VIII, Morgan would research not only former president Nixon but also one of his greatest (and most unexpected) antagonists: David Frost, the playboy of British television whose entire credibility and career rested on the unique opportunity of extracting a confession during the interviews.

Morgan was intrigued by the contrasting lives of the two and believed that their story would lend itself well to a stage-play format. He felt that if he were to design the square-off, he would need to wrap the interviews as "an eminent gladiatorial contest where the only weapons allowed were words and ideas.”

Of his research into the subjects, Morgan observes, "I could see both camps were preparing one another in the way that chess adversaries or boxing adversaries prepare— very strategic.”

In studying their social interactions, Morgan discovered something that would serve him exceptionally well as a dramatist: Each man was an opposite of the other in fundamental ways. He reflects, "If you separate Nixon the human being and Nixon the politician, you can't help but feel for someone who manifestly found life so difficult. In many ways, his misanthropy and suspicion were his political, as well as his social, undoing. Then you look at someone like Frost, who finds life, certainly socially, very easy; he's very naturally gifted at communicating with people, making friends, being liked. Success seemed to come naturally to him.”

The writer believed that the Washington journalistic establishment also underestimated the newsman. "He just wasn't taken seriously intellectually,” Morgan shares. Of Frost's interviewee, he adds, "The one thing you could never lay at Nixon's door is the charge that he was stupid—he was a formidable thinker.” Morgan took these ingredients and "became excited to bring these two people together.”

When creating the play, Morgan engaged in extensive conversations with many who had been involved in the original interviews, including David Frost and others who would ultimately be portrayed on the West End theatrical stage where Frost/Nixon debuted. He offered to Gareth McLean in his interview with The Guardian in August '06, "Everyone I spoke to told the story their way. Even people in the room [at the time of the interviews] tell different versions. There's no one truth about what happened off camera or behind the scenes during the period covered in our story. Perhaps for that reason, my conscience was clear about bringing my own writer's imagination to the piece.”

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