After a decade as a high profile thorn in the side of the American Right. Oliver Stone has an unexpected political bedfellow for his latest biopic — Richard Milhous Nixon. The director tells Alan Morrison there‘s more to the disgraced president than
es got an unenviablc public image as an over-earnest tub—thumper. a Hollywood Democrat obsessed with the Vietnam War and paranoid about conspiracies. But even ()liyer Stone is able to deflate his balloon of self- righteousness.
In a cameo role in the Kevin Kline comedy Dave. Stone claims in a television interview that an imposter has been switched for the real President of the l’nited States. In other words. a conspiracy. We laugh as Stone sees government spooks in every shadow . . . and few of us realise that. given the plot of the movie. he‘s actually the only person who‘s got it right.
10 The List 8-21 Mar 1996
Sir Anthony Hopkins reincarnated as Richard Nixon Stone first made his name in the film industry screenwriter ‘- he won an Oscar for lift/night lit/truss -- while cutting his directorial teeth on two dismissablc horror movies. seizure and The Hand. However. it wasn‘t until
Sir/radar and its forthright condemnation of
American foreign policy that he really hit his stride. 'l‘oday he‘s unique in the studio system: an A-list director who is given free rein and sizcable budgets to tackle big political subjects. Audiences might not always agree with his arguments. but at least his work doesn‘t meekly
reinforce the status tjuo like the majority of
It's surprising. then. to discover that
throughout the 1960 presidential campaign it was a badge for Nixon. not Kennedy. that Stone wore with pride. Then. of course. came Vietnam. and his entire outlook on America changed: Nixon now personified evil. Nevertheless. the President was also a man very like Stone’s father — a life-long Republican who lived through the Depression. World War H and the Cold War. ‘My father shared many of the passions that Nixon had — some of the stubbornness and some of the anger.’ explains Stone. at the other end of a transatlantic phone link. ‘I felt that if I had compassion for my father. I could also have it for Richard Nixon.‘ Compassion is certainly there in the finished movie. Conspiracies and cover—ups are touched on. bttt Nixon aims beyond the official history to the demons within the man himself. To this end.
‘I saw Remains Of The Day and saw that sense of repression and isolation which I felt about Nixon. Tony Hopkins has played madmen, he’s played kings - it anyone could have the courage to do Nixon, it would be him.’
Anthony llopkins‘s achievements in the lead role are remarkable. particularly given his initial reluctance to take on the part. ‘Something in 'l‘ony Hopkins rctninded the of Nixon.‘ says the director. ‘I can’t put my finger on it. except I saw Rmnuins ()fT/u' Day and saw that sense of repression and isolation which I felt about Nixon. Tony's played tnadmen. he‘s played kings — if anyone could have the courage to do Nixon. it would be him.
‘Nixon was certainly strong.‘ Stone continues. listing the conflicting qualities that makes the disgraced president such a dramatic figure. ‘Stubborn. proud. envious. Flaws were the tools with which he rose to power. the desire to achieve at any cost. All the tools that took him to the top were. paradoxically. the tools that were responsible for his downfall and self- destruction. l-lis youth was filled with much more pain and suffering than I had known.‘
Stone gives Nixon the benefit of the doubt on several contentious issues. In fact. the director had enough respect for his subject not to make the movie while Nixon was still alive (he died in April 1994). but Stone's reputation is such that certain quarters had damned the project as soon as it was first whispered. Circumstances weren‘t helped when early drafts of the script were stolen and circulated among the editorial offices of America's leading newspapers.
"l‘here were several articles condemning the film before it had been shot.‘ Stone sighs.