Thursday 18 February 2010


All writers, however retiring by nature, have to ‘do publicity’ these days (well, maybe not the likes of Harper Lee or the recently deceased J.D. Salinger, but it’s true for the rest of us) and sometimes handling interviews can be tricky. I’ve included a TV interview of myself on my website, but I don’t for a moment claim that I handled it that well. It’s always interesting to seize the chance to learn more, and sometimes the source of instruction can be unexpected.

I have in mind the interviews which are at the heart of Ron Howard’s excellent movie Frost/Nixon. This dramatises the famous confrontation between David Frost (now Sir David) and former President Richard M. Nixon. Of course, the script embellishes the reality, but it’s still very thought-provoking. You see the importance of preparation – both Frost and Nixon, and their respective teams, did plenty of prep – but you also see what happens to the best laid plans…

I really enjoyed the film. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella perform superbly in the title roles, and Rebecca Hall (daughter of Sir Peter) is stunningly glamorous as Frost’s then girlfriend (the film, it seems, invented a new version of the story of their initial meeting.) It’s unwise to treat a film like this as history, but it does cast a fascinating light on an unforgettable episode in our past.

I’ll never be interviewed by Sir David, but I do think this film offers, among many good things, a reminder of one of the golden rules of interviews. It’s a privilege to be interviewed, and it’s absolutely essential to treat the interviewer with the utmost respect. Interviewing is a real skill, and some of those who have quizzed me over the years have been highly expert practitioners.


seana graham said...

I would just add that the privilege goes both ways. Interviewers too need to realize that they're dealing with human beings, and not just view them as 'material'.

Kit Courteney said...

I enjoyed the film, too. The performances were stunning, regardless of the embellishments, I felt.

I do believe it was Michael Sheen, not Martin, though ;0)

Nan said...

That was a really great movie! I think the most important thing to me in interviews is that the interviewer NOT interrupt. I hate it when the speaker barely can finish a sentence without the interviewer piping up with his or her own thought. The very best interviewer I ever saw was Brian Lamb on Book TV (CSPAN). He has the gift of letting the other person speak.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I really enjoyed the movie...and was left wondering what was fact and what was fiction! I ended up looking up some information online--I was particularly interested in Nixon's drunken phone call with Frost.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Maxine Clarke said...

I liked the film but being the age I am, I came out of it knowing less about Nixon and Watergate than I did when I went in ;-)

Yes, it is Michael Sheen, who also recently played Brian Clough in the adaptatin of the David Peace book on Leeds United. Don't think I'll be seeing that one, though.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I think even reclusive writers can do publicity now with the advent of the internet and blogging.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought it was brilliant. Love Michael Sheen. Saw him live in Charley's Aunt and Look Back in Anger-totally different plays and he shone in both. And Frank Langella is amazing.

Martin Edwards said...

Great comments as ever - thanks very much. Ooops, of course it was Michael Sheen, correction duly made!
Seana, you are absolutely right about the two-way privilege.
Kit, welcome to the blog.
Nan, I don't know Brian Lamb, but it is definitely true that the art of listening is key to successful interviewing.
Elizabeth, yes, it was a fascinating scene, even if not closely based on what actually happened.
Maxine, I must say I'm tempted by the Clough film, though I wasn't one of Clough's admirers.
Ann, yes, the internet offers lots of opportunities for those who, like me, are not natural performers.
Patti, this film certainly made me keen to see Sheen and Langella's other work.

seana graham said...

Just saw Frost/Nixon last night. The acting was wonderful, but all the controversy around the movie made me wonder what was fact and what fiction, which does seem important, and indeed the whole point of a movie like this.

I was a kid when Frost had his American show, pre Nixon interviews. It's funny to me because I remember Frost being much older than he appears to be in the movie, and with a great deal more intelligence and substance than he apparently had displayed before them. Must have just been the British accent.