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Nixon's the One

The road from White House disgrace to Broadway buzz.

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1. August 8, 1974: President Richard Nixon announces his resignation; a month later, he’s pardoned by Gerald Ford. British interviewer David Frost, his career flagging years after his breakout on the sixties satire show That Was the Week That Was, requests an interview with the disgraced chief executive, hoping to make an end run around Mike Wallace at CBS.

2. Agent Swifty Lazar eventually seals a deal for the interview. Nixon gets $600,000 and part of the profits. Even before it airs, Wallace gets revenge, grilling Frost about “checkbook journalism” on 60 Minutes. Frost generally looks overmatched. (Offstage, Nixon asks him, “Do any fornicating this weekend?”) But Frost wangles an anguished admission from Tricky Dick: “I let the American people down.”


3. Aspiring screenwriter Peter Morgan sees a TV bio of Frost in 1992, and envisions a play—but hasn’t written one since college. So he sits on the idea for eleven years. After he hits it big—with The Deal, a TV movie for director Stephen Frears about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown—Morgan starts on a rewrite of his next project, a movie called The Queen

4. …but before it gets produced, Morgan has some downtime. So, in 2003, he tells producer Matthew Byam Shaw he’ll write the Nixon play. They get Frost’s blessing and Morgan begins months of research, during which he meets Frost’s former adviser, James Reston Jr.— who lends Morgan his unpublished memoir about the interviews.


5. Morgan and Shaw sign Michael Sheen—who portrayed Blair in both The Deal and The Queen—to play Frost. Frank Langella comes on as Nixon. Frost/Nixon opens in 2006 to raves, and transfers to the West End. The morning after it bows, the real David Frost, reporting for Al Jazeera English, gets the real Tony Blair to admit that Iraq is a “disaster.”

6. In early 2007, Frost/Nixon is nominated for three Oliviers just as it’s prepping for Broadway—and just as Morgan is taking home baskets of award nominations for The Queen (as well as The Last King of Scotland). But the play wins none. “To be honest,” Shaw later says, “we were miserably unlucky in London, and I think we deserved a little more.”

7. All the same, it’s a moneymaker. Advance sales in New York are strong. Ron Howard paid $2.5 million for movie rights, perhaps seeking highbrow cred after The Da Vinci Code. And Reston’s memoir, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, will finally be published later this year.


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