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Ron Howard's Big Win

How the director beat out names like Clooney, Scorsese, and Nichols for the hottest show on the London stage.

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It’s arguably the toughest theater ticket to score in London right now. And during intense negotiations that wrapped in mid-September, the cat-and-mouse drama Frost/Nixon?an ingenious look at David Frost’s famous 1977 TV interviews with Richard Nixon, in which the ex-president apologized for Watergate?escalated into an even hotter ticket for some of the biggest directors in Hollywood.

The list of suitors was a glittery one, according to 43-year-old Frost/Nixon author Peter Morgan?a British TV veteran who wrote The Queen and co-wrote The Last King of Scotland, movies that have become Oscar-bait showcases for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker, respectively. Those successes, along with glowing reviews for Frost/Nixon, helped draw a pack of filmmakers eager to adapt the project, including one Brit?Sam Mendes (Jarhead)?and four Yanks: George Clooney, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, and Capote’s Bennett Miller. In the end, the prize went to an unlikely victor, Ron Howard. In a sizable deal, the Cinderella Man director and his producing partner, Brian Grazer, got rights to make Frost/Nixon their next project, with plans to get it into theaters circa early fall, 2008.

So how did a mass-market populist like Howard, fresh off his critically drubbed adaptation of The Da Vinci Code (which grossed $754 million worldwide), beat out a batch of directors who seem more highbrow? For one thing, he actually flew to London to take in Frost/Nixon at the Donmar Warehouse, an innovative, well-regarded theater. ”Other people were talking to me on the phone without having seen it,” says Morgan. It also helped that Howard wanted to tackle Frost/Nixon immediately, something most of the other directors couldn’t or wouldn’t do. ” Frost/Nixon should come out [as a movie] before the Bush administration leaves,” says Morgan. Why? Because after that, what Morgan calls ”obvious parallels” between Nixon’s incursions into Cambodia and Bush’s invasion of Iraq won’t feel as timely. Plus, Howard seemed like the hungriest collaborator?those Da Vinci reviews apparently really hurt. ”In my view, Ron Howard has nothing to prove,” Morgan says. ”But I was charmed and persuaded by a man clearly feeling he did have something to prove.”

Click here for an extended Q&A with Morgan.

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