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Comparing ‘Frost/Nixon’: the play, film and TV interviews

Sarah Johnson and I might well be among the faithful few who saw both the play and film versions of “Frost/Nixon” in the Twin Cities and found ourselves gravitating to the original TV interviews on which F/N is based.

Sarah Johnson and I might well be among the faithful few who saw both the play and film versions of “Frost/Nixon” in the Twin Cities and found ourselves gravitating to the original TV interviews on which F/N is based. Readers are welcome to tell me otherwise in the Comments section below.

The touring play production came to the State Theatre for a week in January, and the film is getting broader local screening since it was nominated for a few Oscars last week, including best picture. (Trailer here.)

Johnson, a public-relations coordinator for Hennepin Theatre Trust, which hosted the touring production, saw the film before the play. I saw the film after the play. Thanks to Johnson’s pointing me in the right direction, I also checked out some of “The Nixon Interviews” on YouTube (clips below). One thing’s for sure: Former President Richard Nixon smiles more in the original interviews.

But Johnson and I mostly compared notes on the play vs. the film the other day. Don’t worry: We’re not going to give anything away. “Frost/Nixon” is the story of how British TV talk-show host David Frost managed to get Nixon to apologize for the actions that led to his resignation. You’ll need to go to the movie to see how that happened. The play is long gone, but the film is still in theaters and is definitely worth seeing.

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“I have to say I really liked both of them and I think that’s a testament to Peter Morgan’s script,” Johnson said. “I’m a big fan of Peter Morgan. I loved his ‘The Last King of Scotland.’ … So, when you start out with a good script, it’s probably going to be good [whether it’s on the stage or a movie screen].”

Morgan wrote the stage play before the screenplay, based on the TV interviews conducted in 1977. Frank Langella won a Tony Award for his Broadway portrayal of Nixon, and he’s up for an Oscar for best actor.

So, what differences did Johnson detect between the versions — other than the obvious that one is on a flat screen and that Stacy Keach portrays Nixon in the touring version?    

“I thought there was a little more background information at the beginning of the movie because I didn’t live through the Frost/Nixon interviews, but other than that I remember them being about the same,” said Johnson. She wasn’t alive in 1977 when the interviews were aired. I was alive but wasn’t paying attention.

I would agree with her take on more background being offered in the movie. At times I found it difficult to follow the background presented in the stage version.

What I picked up clearly in the movie is the character of historian James A. Reston Jr., a cynical adviser to Frost, coming to grips with what he called the “reductive” power of TV to reveal what other news media could not — despite their best efforts. Frost, who was not known for his journalistic prowess at the time, was able to get Nixon to own up to his actions.

Johnson, an admitted history buff, wanted to know more about the troubled times before her birth. She went to YouTube to look up the original TV interviews. So did a lot of others. My quick check found that the first and last clips from “The Nixon Interviews” are getting the most views:

230,000-plus for Clip 1 of 6 on White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (below)

192,400-plus for Clip 6 of 6: I gave them a sword and they stuck it in (below)

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RELATED MINNPOST CONTENT:

Review: ‘Frost/Nixon’ (the play) packs a lot of punch by Ed Huyck, Jan. 7, 2009

‘Frost/Nixon’: The tricky business of marketing the play vs. the film by Casey Selix, Dec. 19, 2008