It may be his greatest comeback. Forty years after he resigned from the presidency in disgrace, Richard Nixon, who died in 1994, is about to be a viral sensation. In Nixon’s the One, a six-part series debuting on YouTube on October 21st, Harry Shearer – actor-satirist and the voice of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons – portrays Nixon in his Watergate tailspin with hysterical accuracy (hound-dog nose, an almost musical snarl) and chilling historical precision. The dialogue – a foul-mouthed cocktail of loopy arrogance and ranting against hippies, Commies and the liberal elite – comes directly from tapes Nixon secretly recorded in the Oval Office, while the action is shot as if by hidden cameras, reinforcing the image of a tyrant under siege.
To prepare, Shearer and Nixon historian Stanley Kutler pored through thousands of hours of Oval Office tapes. ”You feel sorry for him – he can’t get out of Nixon,”says Shearer, who first played Nixon as a member of the Sixties and Seventies comedy troupe the Credibility Gap. ”I saw stuff in him I didn’t see others doing. Nixon talked about manly virtues, but he had these delicate hand gestures. And he was an eyelash-flutterer.” In Nixon’s the One, Shearer deploys those quirks as the president bathes in the sycophancy of Henry Kissinger, and lectures his staff on the fall of ancient Greece (”Aristotle was a homo”).
Shearer recognizes Nixon in other characters he’s played, like insecure Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls and the crotchety Mr. Burns. ”In Nixon’s case, this is a self-made man who is also a self-destroyed man. You can’t get better than that.”