Harry Shearer as President Nixon / © SkyArts/Hat Trick Productions

We speak to Harry Shearer about his brand new project Nixon's The One, where he reprises the role of President Nixon in a new five-part series.

The late Sir David Frost introduces each episode, which are based verbatim on the conversations recorded during Nixon's time in office.

Chatting to Female First, Harry revealed just how long it took to apply the makeup and prosthetics that transforms him into the former president, what we can expect from the show and the experience of working with such passionate and devoted castmates.

For those who don't know about the show could you tell us a little bit about it?

Well, it's kind of a dream project that I've had for a long time. I've been - one might say a fan - of the Nixon White House tapes because of the absolute - first of all the remarkable fact we have literally every waking utterance of the leader of the free world, so called for five years recorded for either prosperity or hilarity however you look at it, and I therefore started listening to them from the minute they began to be released and discovered, beyond the headline making stuff there's this amazing range of bizarre, fascinating, funny, creepy conversations that were going on, on the taxpayer's meter.

So at some point a couple of years ago, I called a friend of mine who's America's leading expert in the story and who actually filed the lawsuit to make the tapes public in the first place, and I said "Stanley (his name's Stanley Kutler), let's do a show not about Watergate, not about Vietnam, not a political show, not a history show, but just a comedy show about the remarkably crazy, funny, spooky conversations, and let's shoot it as if Nixon had hidden not only microphones but cameras in the White house, so that's what we did - that's the show.

The makeup and the prosthetics really transform you - how long did that take to apply?

Four hours a day! You get into sort of a meditative state because obviously there's a big day ahead after it gets on, so it's the time to sort of - you can't go to sleep - but you can go sort of meditative and save your energy. Sometimes you'd be chatting with Aaron the guy who did it but as I say I had a lot of talking to do later in the day (laughs), so I was trying to save my energy.

The reconstruction of The Oval Office was done in the UK - why did you choose this location to work?

Well, I mean, that reconstruction was obviously letter perfect, and that is a key to why I wanted to do it here. I felt that the idea of being absolutely devoted to accuracy and realism - which is always a fight in the States - there's always somebody who's gonna say: "Oh come on, nobody's gonna notice, why do we have to go to that trouble?" - that might not happen here and I was right. The teams were absolutely I think sparked by the adventure of getting it absolutely right, so it was - there was a sort of snowballing effect of everybody working with that kind of dedication to get it right that sort of surrounds you as an actor. You walked into that room and you really felt you were someplace other than on a set.

And I suppose that played in to you wanting to do the whole series word for word with the tapes?

Well yeah, I mean it all came from that. It's like - we have this, why would we not do this? Why would we not be absolutely faithful to it? We're never gonna get this again probably in human history - so, respect the gift.

How would you describe Nixon as a character to play?

Well, I always have felt that he was the Great American, Greek comic character of the 20th century. He is a self-made man who then turns into a self-destroyed man - you can't get better than that!

How does he stack up to others you've portrayed?

I think he's one of a kind. He's remarkably smart, but he's remarkably twisted. He is burning with decades-old resentment that he's never been able to resolve, and his resentments persist even though he's achieved the highest goal he ever set for himself. It was only an opportunity then to sort of act out on those resentments, rather than say; "Oh, God I got here." So, his anger, his resentment, his feeling of being disadvantaged by others who kind of got free passes in his view, at his expense just drove him in an almost atomic way to this very improbable success.

This is a guy who should never have gone into politics - he had no gift for small talk - didn't really like hanging out with strangers, let alone touching them (laughs) and he succeeds to the highest point in that very difficult game, and then still is just like this really angry, bitter, resentful man.

Would you say there's an importance to the show for people to hear these conversations that went on?

I don't describe - as I say it's not a history show, it's not an educational show - it's an entertainment show. I'm an entertainer, I think it's just vastly entertaining to have this - would we have this keyhole peak into every leader that's ruining the world today, but we don't, but we have this - as years have gone by we've gotten more and more of it, so we now have a real critical mass of it, and while a lot of the appeal to me and I think to the audience will be - what a crazy, strange guy this was.

I think another part of the appeal is that, to a certain extent, you can imagine some of these conversations going on at number 10 or in the White House right now. So, it's just a unique, one of a kind glimpse into this world that so many people fictionalise. Here's the real thing.

How was the experience of working with Henry Goodman?

Kissenger & President Nixon / © SkyArts/Hat Trick Productions

Fantastic! Henry is a world class actor and just so into the essence of the Kissenger character - who is again a very complex character.

The reason we made that the first episode of the show is because these two characters bound together in these scene, and in this period of time, are just such a wacky pair - each one is in his own mind using the other, each one in his own mind is dominating the other - they just have this really complex, half respect half content kind of relationship.

Henry just got all the juicyness and meatiness of these kinds of scenes, and just tore into them with a great delight and it was a real thrill to work with him. You can't get better.

But I have to say the whole cast brought that kind of devotion to their parts. People were coming in and saying; "I read the biography of this guy last night and this is what he thought at this point in time" and people were taking the opportunity just to - the value of having these be real people that you could really research and get in to - and were doing that work - we didn't ask them to - they just came in and said "well I read three books about this guy" - so everyone approached it with that level of adventurousness and devotion that was just exciting to be around.

Playhouse Presents…Nixon’s The One will premiere on 30th January at 9pm on Sky Arts 1 HD and will be available On Demand from 24th January. Each episode will also be available on to download on Sky Go a week in advance of the linear TX.

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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