If you are a ‘civilian’, to use Liz Hurley’s notorious description of the non-famous, then attending a movie premiere is a strange experience. At last night’s gala screening of Frost/Nixon, the London Film Festival’s opening film, I rolled along the red carpet in the footsteps of director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and the film’s stars, Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfadyen and Toby Jones, as well as Sir David Frost himself and a throng of black-tie wearing VIPs.
As a non-celeb, however, you feel weirdly invisible as you walk the gauntlet between the screaming fans on one side and the clicking paparazzi on the other. Digital cameras flash every which way, but the lens is never pointed at you.
“Keeley! Keeley!’ they yell on one side.
‘This way, Mariella, this way,’ is the refrain on the other.
‘Hey Oliver! Hey Kevin!’ echoes on both.
A civilian, though, isn’t seen, still less shouted at. You’re not a blip on the radar, unless someone with poor eyesight mistakes you for a D-lister. ‘Wasn’t he in an episode of Midsomer Murders?’
(In passing, I am, apparently, the spit of an English stage director, as I discovered when an actress enthusiastically came up to greet me at a post-show party once.)
So the cameras click and everyone yells, and you glide past invisibly, thinking to yourself, if this is weird for me, how freaky must all this be for the celebs?
Then we get to the film itself, the point of the whole circus, and it goes down a treat with the premiere audience. With good cause. The film’s excellent.
Howard has skilfully opened out Peter Morgan’s hit play based on the historic 1977 TV interview by British TV personality Frost and disgraced former US president Richard Nixon, but he’s preserved – possibly even intensified – the intimacy of the stage drama.
The battle of wits between the two is gripping, even if, like me, you saw the original play. We know the outcome, anyway. Frost famously wrung an apology out of Nixon for the Watergate scandal that had sunk his presidency three years earlier. Yet it’s still enthralling to watch the pair jockeying for the upper hand as their encounter unfolds.
Sheen and Langella are brilliant in the roles, even if some of the people I spoke to at the party afterwards felt that they couldn’t get the image of Sheen’s Tony Blair out of their heads (Sheen played the ex-PM, of course, in both The Deal and The Queen). It’s true that the cinema screen is far less forgiving of actors impersonating the famous than is the view from the theatre stalls, but I managed to banish all thoughts of Blair and appreciate Sheen’s portrayal, the way he gradually conveys the grit that lies beneath Frost’s jet-set charm, the unexpected steeliness behind the catchphrases and mannerisms.
In Morgan’s version of events, however, Langella’s Nixon clearly underestimates his opponent. It’s the reason he and his camp (including Bacon’s straight-arrow aide) have agreed to the interview in the first place. They reckon that the seasoned politician will outfox the superficial chat-show host and rehabilitate his reputation.
Yet in the end, it’s Frost, the lightweight, the celebrity, who triumphs, and he does so because he understands the power of the camera; the power of a close-up: the power of the image.
Postscript: I believe my left ear may feature in a shot somewhere of Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon goofing around on the red carpet for the cameras.