Toward the end of the film Frost/Nixon, based on the Peter Morgan play of the same name, Frank Langella‘s Richard Nixon wonders whether his legacy will prevent young people from aspiring to a life in politics. “They’ll think it’s all just corrupt,” he laments.
“I always felt that line was powerful,” director Ron Howard told the Daily Transom at the Four Seasons Monday evening, after the film’s premiere at the Ziegfeld. “And tonight, post-election, I felt it resonated even more for me.”
The movie re-creates the filming of British talk show host David Frost‘s (played by Michael Sheen) 1977 four-part interview with Richard Nixon—the result of which was the disgraced President’s tacit admission of guilt in the Watergate scandal, and for which Mr. Nixon was paid $1 million. Journalists Robert Zelnick (who was in attendance) and James Reston, who were instrumental in Mr. Frost’s preparation for the project, are also depicted.
“It was a great screening,” Mr. Howard added. “This movie always surprises people, and so for that reason I felt like it was going to be a good night. People always come away far more gratified and entertained than they expect to be going in, and I feel it from the audience.”
Mr. Howard’s assistant began pulling him toward the waiting crush in the main dining room. There was time, it seemed, for maybe a half of another question. We decided to try a classic: Did Mr. Howard think Frost/Nixon was Oscar-worthy?
“I’m not really thinking, but…”
“We gotta go,” the assistant informed us.
Luckily, we spotted New York Times columnist David Carr, who’d managed to chat Mr. Howard up for at least 10 minutes. What had we missed?
“A lot of these guys pretend like they don’t care about the Oscars, but this time of year I have to care about the Oscars. And Mr. Howard beliving that this kind of movie could benefit from Oscar attention—his willingness to be sort of straightforward about that—it makes this whole peek-a-boo we play this time of year a lot easier.”
“Ron Howard accesses their better nature,” he added, referring to the Academy. “He’s a very good human being and he makes successful projects and he’s not a dick.”
Appropriately, the newserati was out in full force. Brian Williams and Katie Couric, who were there with their families, did not seem inclined to talk. However, Tom Brokaw, whose voice is no less authoritative and soothing in person, told us that he “loved” the film. “I’ve seen the play twice—Frank Langella should be up for Best Actor,” he added. “I covered Nixon, I covered that whole period—I can’t get enough of it.”
What was he reaction to the interview project at the time of its inception?
“Well, we were all skeptical. Jimmy Reston was a really good friend of mine and he was key to it in keeping the pressure on David to do it, but they did it.”
Later, we spoke with Oliver Platt, who told us Mr. Zelnick, who he plays in the movie, “just saw it for the first time and really loved it, which made me feel good.”
Mr. Platt recalled a pre-filming lunch with Mr. Zelnick: “I asked, ‘what’s the one thing you want to leave me with?’ And he said, ‘we had a ball. We had so much fun doing it and it was so exciting.’ And that’s not so apparent from all the drama.”
He added, “I think [the movie] is a wonderful book end. I’d like to think that the era that began with Watergate just ended.”
We also asked the British actress Rebecca Hall, who plays Caroline Cushing, the female lead, whether the project had affected her perspective of American politics, past and present.
“I can’t stress it enough—people from Britian, people from Europe, pretty much the whole world are not outsiders to American politics. American politics has had such a large stake in the 20th century and 21st century that you can’t avoid it. If you were in London right now, every newspaper is Barack Obama… We’re totally enthused with it.”