"What became clear to me is that Nixon simply didn't traumatize the British the way he traumatized the Americans," he said, "and the anger at Nixon was still palpable. I could literally feel that anger when I was in the theater. In America, the president is both a politician and the head of state, giving him a much deeper connection to the people. The president is more like a parent, and when a parent lets you down, it is very traumatic."
"English audiences are much more detached about our politicians behaving badly because our politicians are not like our parents, but merely our guardians," Morgan said.
"Unlike the president, the queen is our head of state, and we had the same thing with her that the Americans had with Nixon when she got it wrong in the days after the death of Princess Diana. Suddenly people were really questioning whether we really needed a monarchy, did we need the queen at all, and what were we doing with these people? A sense of our constitutional makeup had been thrown into question, and it was really liberating and frightening."
Morgan traces his interest in the Nixon story to a 1993 two-hour television profile of Frost. Although the program devoted a mere five minutes to the Frost-Nixon confrontations, the writer sensed immediately that a play about "two people with everything to gain and everything to lose pitched in gladiatorial combat with one another" held the potential to become exciting theater.
The idea simmered on his creative back burner for the next 10 years.
After achieving success with the 2003 British TV play "The Deal," which featured Tony Blair as a character, and then "The Queen," he felt confident enough to transform the "real" Nixon and Frost into dramatic characters.
To research Nixon, Morgan traveled to Washington, the Nixon Foundation and Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., and the Nixon Western White House in San Clemente, Calif. He interviewed the surviving participants in the drama, including Henry Kissinger and the research team that wrote Nixon's memoirs.
He also hired a tutor to teach him about the American political system.
"I came to see Nixon and Frost as a combination of ingredients. Each had what the other desired," he said. "Nixon had this extraordinary awkwardness and inability to be liked; Frost, this great superficiality, charm and ease with life. Yet the moment that I knew I had to write about them arrived when I came to see their similarities and not just their differences."
Morgan believed each man wanted to utilize the media event to secure a personal goal -- Nixon viewing the interviews as a potent opportunity to rehabilitate his image; Frost envisioning them as an eye-catching platform that would allow him to relaunch an American television career that had reached a dead end.
Frost, 38 at the time the interviews aired, had a reputation as a lightweight, globe-trotting television personality with an unctuous and sycophantic interviewing style; someone who was ill equipped to confront an ex-president accused of "committing the biggest felony in American political history."
Because Frost is still alive, Morgan had to secure his permission to create a dramatic portrait. Initially skeptical, the broadcast legend eventually was persuaded to give his approval without receiving either payment or editorial control of the project.