Getting the part

[Editor’s Note: Actor Andrew Carter, who portrays David Frost in our production of Frost/Nixon, has agreed to share some of the entries from the journal he is keeping about the process. Today, as TimeLine marks just one week to go before the first preview performance of the show, we’re starting to publish them. First up are three entries covering his experience with the audition process and landing the role. We’ll catch up on the rehearsal process this week, and additional entries will be posted periodically throughout the run. Enjoy!]

May 15, 2010

It has been a little over a week since I got the call.  The call that’s still saved on my voicemail.  The call that has had me buzzing, flapping my wings, smiling ridiculously for days.

“We’d like you to play David Frost.”

The words have an echo; a thundering bass-line; a surreal harmony.

“We’d like you to play David Frost.”

When I first heard that TimeLine would be producing the Chicago premiere of Frost/Nixon, I thought it was another great triumph for the small theatre company I have come to know and love. It’s a powerful play, and one I’m certain other theatres around town would have liked to get their hands on. But I knew immediately that the show had landed in the proper hands. I had no idea, however, that I would soon be a participant.

Like many people, I thought the play had only the two titular characters and that surely the director, Louis Contey, and TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers had already cast those two roles — why else would they choose this play if not to showcase some specific talents? When at last I read the script, I discovered it contained at least 10 other characters, and the elusive role of David Frost immediately jumped out at me. Still, I assumed I was too young to play the role. Nevertheless, I sent Lou an email, congratulating him on securing the project and offered to “put my name in the hat.”  He replied, “You’re on my list.”

April 27, 2010 – First Audition

Dressed to impress in a sleek gray suit, striped purple shirt, purple and silver tie and purple argyle socks (I’m at least going to look the part!), I get called upstairs to read with the lovely Beth Lacke as Caroline, Frost’s romantic interest in the play. Lou and PJ greet us with hugs and handshakes. This is TimeLine — my absolute favorite place to work. This is a collective of artists striving to do their very best work. I do my best work here. I am at home here.

We are to read the scene where David and Caroline first meet, on an airplane. I flash a smile, lean over the “aisle” and fire away with my best pick-up game. I have never worked with Beth before which adds a nice layer of misunderstanding to the scene. I lay it on thick, with a balanced undercurrent of uncertainty — who is this gorgeous woman and do I have what it takes to engage a non-celeb? She deflects, I persist, and slowly the wall starts to come down. Once through the scene, Lou asks Beth why Caroline is attracted to this man. I throw up my hands as if to say, “Isn’t it obvious?” PJ remarks that it “must be the socks.”  I respond, “Hey boys, I came to win.”

Everyone laughs, including me, but truthfully, I mean what I say.

Next, I read a few scenes from the interview portions of the play. There is a reader filling in as Nixon. I cross my legs, rest my head in my hand and begin. I come on strong, trying to pin Nixon against the wall and to provide a bit more energy than you see in the actual event. Lou suggests I pull back and draw Nixon in — keep it relaxed and informal.  I try it again and sure enough it works.  I’m more relaxed too and the scene glides along. When I’m finished, Lou asks, “See what I mean?”

We talk a bit more and I expose some thoughts I have about the character. I can see in Lou’s face that he is impressed, or at least he knows I have done my homework and have been thinking critically about the play and the role. I make another crack about “coming here to win.” Lou responds, “Yes, I can see that.”

May 4, 2010 – Callback

I’ve spent that last three days searching for bright orange socks.  I am convinced this is going to land me the role.

Beth Lacke (from left), Andrew Carter and Terry Hamilton at the first rehearsal for FROST/NIXON

I have also, obviously, been preparing my scenes. I really get this guy. His voice, his physicality, his emotional shifts, his desire to succeed and be liked and be right all the time and impress and prove to people he is more than a showman.  Hmmm … I wonder why?

At the theatre, I see Beth Lacke descend the stairs and am pleased to see that she too has been called back. A few moments later, I am asked to read with her. I’m slightly thrown off because I did not prepare that scene for today’s callback, but a few quick glances at the text and it all comes flooding back.

I barely enter the room before Lou and PJ start asking about my socks. I hike up my pants leg to reveal the shocking orange crew socks I found.  They gasp and laugh and Lou admits his wife wanted to know what socks I wore — had they been talking about me?

“Last week, I came to win. This week, I came to blind.”

The scene goes quite well — Beth is decidedly more acerbic and gives me plenty to play off. Even as her Caroline sends doubtful looks and shame-inducing retorts my way, one can see we are having fun.

Next, it is time to read with Terry Hamilton as Nixon. I’ve worked with Terry many times before, but I’ve never seen him quite as worked up as this. I suppose taking on the world’s most notorious political figure must be quite a burden. Of course, Terry does an excellent job — it is fun finally getting to talk with Nixon instead of just imagining his voice.  By far the most interesting moments of our audition together come not in mid-scene but between takes when Lou poses probing questions to us.  “Do they like each other?” “Why are they here?  What’s at stake?” Terry is so engrossed in his character that he never truly drops the vocal pattern and body language of Nixon, even when answering as Terry.  I am fascinated by this and can’t help but smile.  Then I realize — this is as much a part of the audition as the scene work. So as I listen to Terry’s lengthy, Nixon-esque responses to Lou’s questions, I put my David Frost mask back on, cross my legs, lean in with hand on face, and soak in my “interviewee’s” train of thought.

Last but not least, I get to read with the always-amusing chatterbox that is Dennis William Grimes. Dennis and I first met working on Pravda at TimeLine, under Lou’s direction.  Dennis is an avid reader with a sharp brain, an eager personality mixed with the slightest overdose of neuroticism. I immediately know he is perfect for the role of John Birt, Frost’s friend and voice of reason. He’s the guy Frost always knows he can count on to get the job done, especially when Frost doesn’t want the added responsibility. By this point in the day I’m feeling as relaxed and confident as Frost himself. So I stretch out, fold my arms over my chest and let Dennis/John deal with the pressure. He does a great job, and after some heady, tangential and numbingly smart debate between Lou and Dennis, the day is over.  I thank PJ and Lou profusely for the opportunity. They are appreciative of my effort and commitment. Dennis and I get so wrapped up in our post-mortem discussion that I almost forget I need to go to my first day at my new job!

Andrew Carter portrays David Frost in TimeLine’s Chicago premiere of Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon. He previously appeared at TimeLine in The History Boys, Pravda and This Happy Breed.

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  1. Bernie Holicky

    Andrew – Can’t wait to see you as Frost. If the truth be told, it’s Terry [Hamilton] that I remember in “Pravada” and “This Happy Breed” BUT, your Irwin, the supply teacher in “The History Boys” resonated and left me thinking…I want to see this guy again and soon on a Chicago stage.

  2. theMike

    this is such a fantastic idea, to be able to enter the mind of those involved in the creative process!! well done, timeline.

    super proud of ya, andrew.

  3. Keri

    Really neat feature, love the insight into the “process”. Looking forward to the production!

  4. Linda Stelle

    Andrew, we are so happy for you and excited to see the play. We saw it in London with Jenny. It was like reliving history.

  5. Hal Temkin

    As long time Andrew Carter fans (since before Highland Park High School) we’ll be in the audience with friends we’re bringing along at the 4 p.m. on August 28. You’re the best Andrew and everything we’ve seen at TimeLine is outstanding. We look foreward to seeing you on the stage again, again and again. Love…and break a leg.