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Nixon vs. St. Thomas More

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 12/7/08 at 2:34 PM

 

Frank Langella plays Nixon in a performance that’s getting rave reviews. But a USA Today story reminds readers that Langella is also playing another famous politician right now: St. Thomas More, on Broadway.

“I am playing in both of these men the loneliness of good and the loneliness of evil,” he says. “I never thought of it before.”

Langella did an enormous amount of research about Nixon, reports the paper, including “sitting for an hour in the closet-sized room the boy once shared with three brothers.”

The protagonist in A Man for All Seasons ends his life sitting for hours in a closet-sized room.

Langella says that, in a sense, Nixon never left his cramped room — he was haunted to the end by his humble beginnings. He doesn’t add, but he could, that in that same sense, More was never trapped in his cramped cell. His faith in the unseen world and his self-possession allowed him to stay free.

Of Nixon, who famously watched with an angry scowl on his face as the results poured in showing his landslide re-election, Langella says: “Nixon is the poster boy for self-destruction. The more I worked on him, and the more I tried to dig into the deepest part of his nature, I saw every friend I have who succeeds and then suddenly drifts too much, or succeeds and falls prey to drugs, or succeeds and ruins their marriage or fights with their boss.”

“All of us have this quality. It’s like we can’t take too much happiness.”

As for St. Thomas More, Langella says he is “a practical man. He’s not a bliss-ninny. He dies for his principles. … What an interesting notion for Richard Nixon to sit down with Sir Thomas More.”

The article notes that when one of his betrayers in the play asks More “How much do you know about me?”

More’s answer is, “Whatever you let me know.”

“When it comes to himself,” USA Today continues, “Langella would rather you know nothing.”

He tells the paper: “Believe me, I have as big an ego and I’m just as vain as any other actor. But why the hell should you guys know that? That’s for the people in my life to have to deal with.

“I truly, truly, truly — and this is without any kind of artifice — I really truly want you to know Richard Nixon and want you to know Sir Thomas More, and the less you know about me, the more you will enjoy them.”

— Tom Hoopes