No, it's not an ice-tinged holiday story about the late ex-president. It's a witty look at the backstage jockeying behind ex-talk-show host David Frost's revelatory 1977 TV interviews with Richard M. Nixon, in which the disgraced pol essentially admitted culpability for Watergate. In 2006, a stage version by Morgan (The Queen) opened to raves in London, with a gangly Langella as Tricky Dick and Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen) as a grin-wielding Frost. By the end of opening week, there were six major-league suitors for the film rights. Howard, just off The Da Vinci Code, seemed an odd match, but he was willing to commit to a late-2008 release and Morgan wanted the movie out before George W. Bush left the White House. (In Morgan's view, abuse-of-power issues are at peak relevancy.)
Howard and Co. took lowered fees, the director says. But according to Morgan, even with a modest $25 million budget, the studio pushed for a bigger star to play Nixon. Howard considered Jack Nicholson, then Warren Beatty. (Both passed.) But just after the show opened on Broadway in April 2007 with the original leads, Langella got a call. ''It was [Universal honcho] Ron Meyer,'' recalls the actor. ''He said, 'We'd like you to come join us.' I said, 'Where are you?' He said, 'No, for the film!'''
OUR TWO CENTS Frost/Nixon will outscore Da Vinci critically, and Langella and Sheen should be busy this awards season. 12/5
DEEP DIVE Check out clips of Frost's interviews with celebs (Liza! Woody!) from the late '60s and early '70s at thedavidfrostshow.com