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Jonathan Hyde: 'Nixon was nothing in comparison with what we have now'

As he prepares to open in Sheffield's Frost/Nixon, Jonathan Hyde reflects on how he avoided the Vietnam War to head to drama school and the pitfalls of Nixon


Jonathan Hyde has had a remarkable career in film, stage and TV, including in films such as Richie Rich, Titanic, Jumangi and The King's Speech. He's worked extensively at the NT, the Almeida and the RSC where he starred opposite actors such as Ian McKellen, Frances Barber, Romola Garai and Sylvester McCoy. Since 2014, he has starred in Guillermo Del Toro's FX TV series The Strain, which he had a break from last year to return to the stage in the UK in Julius Caesar. He's now back in Sheffield, this time to star in Robert Hastie's revival production of Frost Nixon.

The impression of Frost/Nixon is that it's just two guys sitting chairs. But actually it's a ten hander. There are scenes in all sorts of places: cars, an aeroplane, hotel rooms: it's anything but static. It's filmed too, with a huge cube above us that projects images of what's being filmed on three sides.

When you compare him with what we have today, Nixon was a paradigm of political acumen and skill. What we're faced with now is lumpen idiocy or rank foolishness. The Watergate scandal did blow the lid off an awful lot of presidential misbehaviour. From that side of things he was frightening in so many ways but on the other hand he had a tremendous vision of opening a lot of doors that had been slammed shut.

I want to get close to a pencil portrait of Nixon without actually having to clamp my head to make it look like a pear. I've made one or two decisions around eyebrows but I've decided I don't want to replicate every last detail of the man and how he sounded.

After downing about a gallon of wine at university, I once managed to give an almost flawless performance in a Euripides play. I have no memory of the performance whatsoever, but someone said afterwards I seemed to be in control of myself and didn't fall over, so from then on I thought I might train to be an actor.

I came to England from Australia to train because I had been conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Australia and the US were allies and Australia had a one-in-eight conscription system, so men who turned 21 were selected to go and fight. My marble was picked, but I had read up on the war and was so opposed to it, I thought it was an aberration that we were involved. I was discharged, because back then I had a personality problem, and then Europe beckoned.

When you're inside, covered with glitter and wearing make-up, the weather doesn't really feature. So when I worked in Glasgow with the Citizens Theatre early in my career it wasn't a shock being there after Australia. I loved the Citz, it was really quite shambolic, but they had a wonderful team. Everyone was a star at Glasgow Citz.

Frost/Nixon runs at Crucible Sheffield until 17 March.