Q: Are you glad that you took the role in the play?
A: I have always in my career tried to choose quality roles over commercial ones because I need to challenge myself. The fact that I was a bit afraid of Frost/ Nixon made me want to go for it even more. Then it turned into a success twice, in London and later on Broadway in New York. When the movie came around, Michael and I jumped back on a plane again.
Q: What convinced you to accept the role?
A: Well, it’s always the words because there is a great expression that says: “If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.” So, if it isn’t there, in the writing, it will never be there. And I was attracted to playing Richard Nixon.
Q: What did you know about Nixon before you got involved in Frost/Nixon?
A: I didn’t know a lot about him, except the clichés that he was a disgraced president who everybody made fun of, and that he was awkward. But in the course of the time that I spent with the character, I began to feel tremendous empathy and compassion towards him, a sense of near-like tragedy, as if it were a modern day King Lear: a man whose hubris and arrogance brought him down, being an architect of his own destruction.
Q: What was your main concern in portraying Richard Nixon?
A: I made an attempt to never judge, condemn or disgrace this man, but to play him from his own point of view because he didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong for a very long time.
My take on Nixon is that he got to the very top of the ladder –he was a brilliant politician with a brilliant mind- and a little voice inside him said: “You don’t deserve this.”
Q: What was it like to work with Michael Sheen once more, but in a very different medium?
A: Michael does an excellent job. And by the time we walked onto the set, we had gone through three casts of actors, two directors and many hours of rehearsal, and we were both very strongly and deeply connected to our men. So, it was organic. From the moment we sat in our seats, he was David Frost and I was Richard Nixon, and we watched each other like hawks in exactly the right collaborative way that actors should.
Q: How different is the film to the play?
A: Substantially, actually. Every scene that was in the play was shot, but not all of them were kept.
Q: What would you have asked Nixon if you had been in Frost’s shoes?
A: I’m not sure I would have asked him anything, but I might have said: “Sir, without being presumptuous, I think I understand what motivates a lot of the things you do. And I think you were in these areas brilliant and incredibly intelligent, but I regret that you let yourself be overwhelmed by the demons that haunt you and conquer some of the worst things in your nature.