Over the last six months we’ve heard quite a bit from the major players in the Frost/Nixon film – director Ron Howard, writer Peter Morgan, and stars Frank Langella and Michael Sheen – but it’s been somewhat difficult to find interviews with the supporting cast members.
So I was happy to come across an interview that Oliver Platt (who plays Bob Zelnick in the film) did with Film Monthly last December. In it, he’s asked whether it’s true that Langella insisted on being addressed as “Mr. President” on the set. (Here, I should mention that in the commentary to the Frost/Nixon DVD, Ron Howard tells an amusing story about the moment when Langella finally dropped character and gave everyone permission to call him Frank again, just before the last scene was shot.)
Platt confirms this, but observes that:
[I]t really didn’t end up having a lot of bearing on us, because Ron kept the two camps very much apart on the set. He really didn’t want us to mingle. I mean, I’m surprised he didn’t have, like, separate craft services and makeup trailers for us, But he really encouraged—he said, “I really don’t want you guys to hang out together.” The people on the Frost team and on the Nixon team. And so we rarely—we actually rarely saw them.
This article is titled “Oliver Platt vs. Richard Nixon,” but this month, in another interview done to promote the DVD, Platt reveals, when asked if his opinion of the 37th President was changed by his work on the film:
Absolutely, and that is one of the things that is so beautiful about the movie I think. We have been handily villainising Nixon for almost four decades now and my view is that there are very few real heroes or real villains, there are people who do heroic things and there are people that make mistakes and I would put Nixon in the latter category.
Matthew Macfadyen, who plays producer John Birt in the film, is asked in the same article whether the scene depicting Birt joyously stripping off his clothes and jumping into the Pacific was based on fact. Macfadyen replies:
He might have done [that]. It would have been something that he could have done. I asked [Birt] about that. He was sort of hazy but he said it was something he could imagine himself having done. It was a wild, spur of the moment kind of thing. But actually he would have had to get into the car and drive down to the beach and then dramatically, spontaneously run into the sea.
To which Platt ripostes, “in real life it was Zelnick who did it but he has a much nicer bottom.” That witticism aside, it sounds like the romp in the surf might well have been another scene meriting an admission by Howard on the DVD commentary that it departed from the historical record.