July 21, 2010 – End of Week Two
I don’t think I have ever been more challenged or amazed during a rehearsal process. Each day I stagger out of the rehearsal room, my head swimming with fresh ideas, my heart (or someplace near it) reverberating with the evening’s lessons.
Perhaps it was arrogant of me to think that I had such a strong handle on my character, because I am effectively throwing all those notions out on a daily basis. You mean I actually have to feel? And think? And act? The truth is I’ve always known I want Frost to be more complex and fully realized than he appears on paper. But it has taken two weeks, a group of people, and a keen director to elicit that truth. I consider myself a smart actor … but I can’t act alone. Some examples:
I had an interesting conversation with Lou a few nights ago in which he suggested I go “broader” with the role. He felt the subtleties (which have been an anchor in my work for some time) were not helping to tell the story. “Broaden it out now and then later we can go in and find the more subtle moments. It’s going to feel weird for a while.” He assured me I had his full support. I don’t think a director has ever told me to go bigger and it was a difficult concept to grasp. Mostly, I was concerned with acting in a “different” show than everyone else. Lou eased my concerns and advised I just go for it, regardless of what any one else was thinking.
Since that conversation, Frost has been lighter on his feet, sweeping through scenes with a devil-may-care attitude and laughing in the faces of his detractors. It is by no means garish or clownish, but it has brought liveliness to the role that is quite enjoyable. I’ve always thought of him as confident and in control and unconcerned with anything but end results, and this new exercise helps emphasize those qualities.
On the contrary, there has been some fascinating in-depth scene work taking place that threatens to up-end any and all preconceived notions about this ambitious man. In scenes with Nixon, Birt and Caroline we have begun to explore some truly revelatory ideas. Two early scenes involve Frost trying to convince John Birt (played by Dennis Grimes), his long-time friend and producer, to leave his new job in order to pursue the Nixon interviews. Birt is, of course, wound tight in skepticism and acts the perfect foil for Frost’s excitability about the project. I had always thought of Frost in these scenes as being so overly positive and certain his plan will work that he flicks away Birt’s concerns and objections with all the ease of a few loose crumbs. As we have explored more in these scenes, I have determined that much more is at stake here. Frost needs his friend (and “organized mind”) to side with him so he can be assured there will be a trusted advisor with him every step of the way. He must appeal to Birt’s neuroticism. He must flatter and cajole. And he must leave no doubt whatsoever that he is 100% in control.
Immediately after Frost pleads with Birt, on an airplane headed to California, the beautiful Caroline Cushing (played by Beth Lacke) appears, reading a thick book and coolly ignoring the famous talk-show host nearby. This is a scene ripe with flirtation and witty repartee that I had been enjoying so much during the audition process. Now, however, there are new challenges and concerns to address and the scene no longer comes with quite the ease it once did. Essentially, Beth and I must determine why these two meet, talk, and eventually fall in love. The entire relationship is revealed in just a few short scenes, and there has always been the question of how to develop that relationship into a fully realized partnership. As I learned last night, this will take some sharp thinking, because it is not enough for Frost to just be charming and poised to win the affections of a twice-divorced mother of two. There must be an openness and vulnerability that catches her attention (not easy for a man like Frost). There is also a greater need for Frost to have Caroline by his side throughout this bold enterprise – someone to lean on, just enough, to help him get through it all. Or, to put it more coarsely, a second crutch, with Birt providing balance on the other side.
Working with Dennis, Beth and Lou last night revealed some of my own vulnerabilities. Just as Frost needs to build his team and garner support from those around him, I too need the help of a few people to pull this off. It’s not enough to be self-assured and intrepid in order to win the day. There must be communication, brainstorming, initiative, exploration, humility, and, yes, even fear to expose the many layers hidden deep within this text. And I think that’s about as brave as it gets.
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.