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FROST/NIXON

Casting The Film
There was no doubt from the filmmakers that Frank Langella and Michael Sheen should remain Richard Nixon and David Frost for the filmed version of Frost/Nixon. "It was a given that Michael and Frank would inhabit the roles,” offers director Howard. "It's impossible to imagine two other actors bringing the kind of research, preparation or chemistry that the two of them offer. For almost two years, they have lived as Frost and Nixon.”

Langella wanted his performance not to be mimicry of Nixon but a dedicated interpretation of a fallible man. The challenge for him was that, unlike Sheen's reference, Nixon is no longer alive. "I was determined not to do an impression,” Langella states. "I looked in him for the thing I look for in every character I play: What is his soul about? What is his inner heart and mind about? You really can't play a ‘politician,' a ‘musician,' a ‘serial killer.' You don't play the title. Everybody's a human being, and everybody has a soul, a heart and a mind.”

Of his attraction to the role, Langella continues, "Richard Nixon is close to the most fascinating man I've ever had the privilege of portraying. I became obsessed with him and obsessed with the inner demons in him. I liked the fact that Nixon was not an everyday guy, as I like that about all the politicians of that period. They were irascible, difficult, funny-looking, bizarre guys, and they revealed a lot more of their idiosyncrasies than today's do.”

There was something surreal about seeing Nixon come to life through Langella's performance, acknowledges Academy Award®-winning producer Brian Grazer. "From the ever-present low growl in his voice to the slight grin that Richard Nixon could flash, it was fascinating what Frank could do. Under a different actor's care, the role could have easily become a cheap impression of Nixon. But he incorporated those iconic affectations we know Nixon had while bringing this deep sensitivity to unguarded moments. When you watch Frank, the actor vanishes and you simply see a terribly conflicted man who has, essentially, been dethroned.”

Routinely lauded by critics and audiences alike during the play's run, Langella would receive his biggest compliment from his character's nemesis. David Frost agrees: "He doesn't look like Nixon, but you feel he's Nixon. Some of his gestures may not be remotely Nixon gestures, but they feel like Nixon gestures. So he transcends accuracy; it's more than accurate in a way.”

Transitioning the role from stage play to film presented another set of challenges for Langella. He offers, "When you take a character from a play and bring him to the stage, you have to fight a very particular kind of acting monster. I did it 360 times. I had an inner rhythm going that was so part of my being that even I didn't know. [In front of the camera], it became very exciting to me to throw away and metaphorically open the window and toss out the stage performance—keep all the elements of it that worked but then bring a fresher approach to it.”

As with Langella, the transition for Sheen was a long study in behavior. As he moved the role to film, however, he grew even more comfortable in Frost's skin. "I've lived with this character for over a year, and the basics of the way I see him didn't really change from stage to film,” he notes. "It's just about being specific to your audience. I suppose on stage you play to the audience in the room, and on film you play to the camera. The big difference on stage is that you have to pretend you're on an airplane or pretend you're at the Western White House, etc. For the film, I only had to be there.

"Playing a character who exists in real life obviously brings two sets of responsibilities,” Sheen continues. "You have the responsibility that you always have with any character you play—to the writer, to the story.<

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