While watching actors Andrew Carter and Terry Hamilton during auditions for Frost/Nixon, director Louis Contey asked: “Do you think they, Frost and Nixon, like each other? Do you think they get along?” Andrew offered his answer to the question and, when he was done, Terry took his turn to respond. Yet it was not Terry’s voice answering the question — it was Richard Nixon’s. Andrew gave a second look at the man next to him and thought to himself, “Man, this is great.” He crossed his legs, put on his David Frost face, and listened to the 37th President answer the question.
“Terry had been working so hard on Richard Nixon that he ‘aw’ never stopped ‘aw’ talking like ‘uh’ you know he never sort of dropped his Nixon voice that he has been working so diligently on,” said Andrew, halfway doing his own imitation of Nixon during this interview. Andrew knew that the Frost/Nixon audition was more than just reading scenes from the script. Even answering the questions was a way for Lou and Artistic Director PJ Powers to observe them. “Lou and PJ were really looking hard at us. Talking and answering questions about our characters was every bit a part of the audition as actually reading it.”
“I felt a little pressure. I was nervous because I didn’t know how many people they were going to be seeing for Nixon. And I was not convinced myself that I was right for the role. I just wasn’t sure of my own self,” said Terry, who was called in to audition for Zelnick as well as Nixon. But both actors felt good about the audition and soon had been cast in the roles of Richard Nixon and David Frost.
After hearing both actors at the first reading in July and again opening weekend, I could tell that PJ and Lou’s decision was no surprise — they are very right for these roles. Just watching and listening to them at that first rehearsal, it was obvious that Terry and Andrew had been doing their research along with the other cast members. Terry was already doing research after he found out that TimeLine was doing the play, such as reading the script, listening to the interviews, reading Nixon memoirs and more. “I was trying to discover if there was a Nixon inside of me,” he said.
Andrew as well had been watching Frost’s talk shows and researching anything else that would help him create his character. “I’m having a great time,” he explained. “This is my first time that I ever played a real person or a living person. So that is a really exciting element.”
Terry didn’t know what to expect from the first rehearsal reading, but explained that that was part of the fun. “There were a lot of people there. Everyone was reading the script for the first time together and that’s the fun of the first reading because you’re getting tons of information the minute they open their mouths. It was really interesting to kind of get to know everybody through the first reading. I felt that my confidence went up a lot after that. And you kind of say to yourself, ‘OK this is a good group of people and we are going to have a good time doing this and I think it’s going to be a good production.’”
The first week of rehearsals was mostly table work; they discussed the play and the dramaturg gave lots of information about the time period and events that were happening. After the table work, Terry explained that “Lou literally sketched out the blocking for the entire play and we went through the entire play.” After that, “we broke all that down and went back to the beginning and added more detail; more layers.”
Andrew was shocked at how fast the first week flew by and was glad to still have several weeks of rehearsal to develop the characters in the play since he knew there were things he hadn’t thought about. “I approached this process by saying to myself, ‘you have a pretty good understanding, but what else is out there?’”
Andrew was aware of the challenges of doing such a well-known play about well-known events. “The audience is going to remember what they have seen — the movie, other productions, the interviews, etc. — and if they come see our production, it’s going to be inevitable to be compared to that. I think one of the challenges that all of us are looking forward to is breaking that. We want to do our own thing. We have a chance to do that.”
Both actors knew they couldn’t create caricatures. “We have to keep in mind that we are playing human beings,” Terry said. “If he wasn’t called David Frost and I wasn’t called Richard Nixon, we still want to engage the audience in the story and just play them as honestly as we can. You want the audience to care about these people and care about the conflicts they are going through and struggles they are having. If I can convince the audience to accept me as Nixon, I think that’s half the battle right there.”
Both Andrew and Terry think about what it is their characters want during the course of the play. “At this point I believe Nixon just wants a chance to put Watergate behind him,” Terry said. “I think he sees this opportunity as a chance to reinforce and reinstate a lot of the positive things that he did and finally explain his motives behind the Watergate incident.”
And Frost? “Frost is sort of searching for the spotlight, but I really feel that more important than that is his desire to continue to develop and grow as a journalist,” Andrew said. “He sees an opportunity to move into the next echelon of celebrity, being someone that people can rely on and trust. He loves what he does and he wants more of it.”
As our conversation ended, Terry shared with smile on his face, “You just hope that the production turns out well. It’s a great opportunity to play these two roles. Andrew and I will be working very hard and the cast is working very hard.”
Andrew agreed. “I really do love this play. I think it’s well written, it’s exciting, and funny. I just want to have a good time. Terry’s right, we both recognize this is a pretty unique opportunity. Just like Nixon and just like Frost, I don’t think either one of us is going to let an opportunity pass us by.”
Want to hear more from Terry and Andrew? Check out the Talk Theatre in Chicago Podcast — 30 minutes with host Tom Williams about the show and their portrayals of Richard Nixon and David Frost. Listen to the podcast here …