Featured Player: Peter Morgan
Awards season has been kind to Oscar-nommed Peter Morgan, whose screenplay for “The Queen” has enough trophies to fill a mantlepiece.
Next stop: The Tonys?
This spring, the London-born Morgan caps off his season of Hollywood heat — turned up by the near-simultaneous debuts of “The Queen,” “The Last King of Scotland” and HBO pic “Longford” — with a Broadway run of his “Frost/Nixon.” This last bowed at the Donmar in London last year and went on to a successful West End run. Play opens April 22 at the Jacobs Theater.
The writer’s legit outing, which is being turned into a feature by Morgan and director Ron Howard, could almost be considered the extension of his brand.
The 43-year-old scribe has cultivated a signature interest in investigating the humanity of lives lived in the public eye, molding characters out of intriguing real-life leaders that attract thesps such as Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Jim Broadbent. His next film project, due in the fall, is “The Other Boleyn Girl,” directed by Justin Chadwick and starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.
“They’re unlikely love stories, in a way,” Morgan says of his scripts. “That’s the point of view I start from.”
Like “The Queen” and “Last King,” “Frost/Nixon” features true-story subject matter and a formidable star. The play centers on the seminal TV interviews between the disgraced Richard Nixon, played by Frank Langella, and Brit TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in “The Queen”).
But despite the show’s success in London, Morgan suffers from stage fright.
It was stage fright, in fact — suffered while acting in a production of “Love’s Labours Lost” — that got him writing plays in university. Soon he and a friend were recruited to pen corporate training films, which led to a screenwriting career that includes Brit telepics “Henry VIII” and “The Deal.”
The stage fright extended to playwriting. So for years, he avoided the idea of writing for the stage.
“I never had the guts to go back to the stage,” Morgan says. “The writing is just so exposed. You can’t hide behind camera angles.”
The idea for “Frost/Nixon” came from a 1993 documentary about the Frost-Nixon interviews, but it took 12 years for Morgan to confront his fears and write the play.
The original draft of “The Queen” (which did not include Blair) was, in Morgan’s words, “awful,” and he said as much to helmer Stephen Frears.
So Frears directed “Mrs. Henderson Presents” while Morgan worked on a new draft of “The Queen,” with the Blair character included. The new version “just flew out of me,” Morgan says.
With “Henderson” in the works, production on “The Queen” was pushed back. That’s when Morgan overcame his trepidation to give playwriting another go.
Remembering that Frost documentary, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to conduct research and interviews.
“I fully expected this play to end up in a drawer,” Morgan says. “Or go onstage in a pub somewhere.”
Instead, its strong reception at the Donmar (helmed by Donmar a.d. Michael Grandgage, who makes his Broadway debut with “Frost/Nixon”) prompted a West End run and attracted the attention of a lot of filmmakers, including Howard.
“It’s who Nixon is that’s so shocking,” he says of the response to the play. “You’re so set up for seeing a man in the shadows, enveloped in shame and paranoia and malevolence, that you’re unprepared for Nixon as a human being.”
He adds what could be the mantra for his intimate brand of historical fiction: “It may not be accurate, but I believe it’s truthful.”
Now people are asking him if he has any other theatrical projects in mind. He’s thinking of something small, and he’s agreed to talk to Nicholas Kent of London’s Tricycle Theater about potential projects.
“I’ve got a couple of ideas,” he says. “But it may take me another 10 years to write them.”