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Sheen takes Frost to Hollywood

17 August 07 09:19 GMT
By Tom Brook
BBC News, New York

Michael Sheen is taking his portrayal of British broadcaster David Frost to Hollywood, in a new film from Oscar-winning film-maker Ron Howard. Shooting begins next week.

The film is based on the hit Frost/Nixon play in which Sheen also starred as David Frost.

In the play, which has picked up awards in both London and New York, actor Frank Langella portrays President Nixon. Langella will also reprise his role in the forthcoming movie.

Written by The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon tells the story of how David Frost, in a 1977 television interview, forced President Nixon to tacitly admit wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal.   

On the surface Frost/Nixon seems a much less dramatic story than The Queen in which Sheen, in a signature performance, played Tony Blair in the tumultuous days following the death of Princess Diana.

But Sheen believes Frost/Nixon is also a very strong story with the power to mesmerise in any medium - including film.

"It has the perfect combination of elements in a way. It's about big ideas and big concepts, and big characters, and big people, and big events.

"But it's done in such a way that makes it incredibly accessible - and then there's this thriller aspect to it as well. If it was a book it would be a real page-turner."

The film, which also stars Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell and Toby Jones, will open next year in the midst of the US presidential election campaign.

If the play is anything to go by then the film will resonate with an American public faced with a US President who is low in the opinion polls, mired in an unpopular war, with an administration accused of corruption.

President Nixon faced those realities before he resigned from the Presidency in 1974.

Audience reaction

Sheen says: "There's obviously a lot of resonance in the play in terms of a president who has got embroiled in a war abroad and is trying to work out how to bring that war to an end or not - and people losing trust in him and an administration that seems to have some corruption in it."

The actor has observed that audiences for the Broadway play have strongly identified with the material.

"Rather than people just sitting there and watching the show, you now get people who start shouting things out," says Sheen.

"We've heard a lot of 'George W' being shouted out at certain points when Nixon is apologising or admitting the things that he feels."

Sheen notes that Da Vinci Code director Ron Howard views the Frost/Nixon movie more as an independent film than potential Hollywood blockbuster.

'Warts and all'

Even though its budget is modest, the film will raise Sheen's profile. But it will also present audiences around the world with a portrayal of David Frost that isn't exactly flattering.

Frost has seen the play more than once.

Sheen states: "The piece doesn't shy away from showing him warts and all, so that must be very uncomfortable for him to watch but he deals with it very well. He just says it's like watching a fictional character."

In person Sheen is quiet, unassuming and inconspicuous - in contrast to his striking chameleon-like talents as an actor to transform himself into the person he's playing.

With his stock rising, the Hollywood version of Frost/Nixon could bring about a transformation of a different sort - making 38-year-old Welsh-born Michael Sheen an international movie star as well as highly-respected actor.

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