Dec 1, 2008

Entertainment - Small things "Frost/Nixon" could do without

Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sir David Frost says a new film about his historical interview with former U.S. President Richard Nixon is better than the stage play it is based on, but "there are one or two small bits it could do without."

Director Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" is based on Peter Morgan's Tony Award-winning play of the same name and stars the same actors who played the characters on stage in London and New York -- Michael Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon).

Morgan also wrote the screenplay for the film, which debuts in major U.S. cities on December 5 and elsewhere across the United States and the world in coming months.

"There is about 10 percent fiction," Frost, 69, who now hosts a show on the Al Jazeera English network, told Reuters in a recent interview. "It's just minor things in the fiction that really can be summed up as the things that Peter was doing to try and build me up as an underdog."

"To build up the ending so he left out all the things I'd done by the time of the Nixon interviews -- three prime ministers, three ex-presidents, all sorts of stuff," he said.

Frost's 1977 interview, three years after Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate scandal, gripped viewers around the world as the former president admitted for the first time he had made mistakes and let the American people down.

Critics at the time had scoffed at whether the British TV personality could hold is own against former lawyer Nixon.

Howard told Reuters that Morgan, nominated for an Oscar for writing 2006's "The Queen," accentuated parts of Frost's character to show why people may have doubted his abilities.

"(Frost) was a lot of things -- he was an entertainer, he was a jet-setter, he was socially incredibly ambitious, he was a ladies man," Howard said in an interview. "He's an unlikely challenger. If you look at the articles at the time they really underscored that 'David and Goliath' aspect."

Frost says his decision to approve the stage and film productions and give up editorial control was the right one and the way the film was written "worked stunningly overall, building to this climax at the end."

Frost paid Nixon some $600,000 for interviews that produced nearly 29 hours of footage and took place over 12 days.

Frost said his goal was always to give Nixon "the trial that he never had" and that "to a certain extent we did achieve more than we could have hoped."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham)

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