Peter Morgan has an ‘Audience’ with the queen

Peter Morgan answered his cellphone Friday but said right away that it wasn’t a good time to talk. The Oscar-nominated writer of the 2006 movie “The Queen” explained in a polite but hurried manner that he was in a car en route to London’s Gielgud Theatre, where his play “The Audience,” with Helen Mirren reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II, has been running since February.

Reached again on Monday, Morgan said that he was busy last week because he was making last-minute changes to a scene between the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron (Rufus Wright). The rewrites included topical references to Prince Philip, who was recently admitted to hospital for abdominal surgery.

“I wrote some things that would angle more on her mortality. And I took out some jokes,” Morgan said.

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“The Audience,” which will be broadcast to cinemas around the world starting Thursday as part of the National Theatre Live series, portrays the Queen holding her ritual private meetings with Britain’s prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Cameron.

Morgan, who was also Oscar-nominated for adapting his play “Frost/Nixon” for the screen, spoke about his experience writing “The Audience” and working again with Mirren. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Have you made a lot of changes to “The Audience” since it opened?

Yes, there have been so many changes, like the new pope and [Margaret] Thatcher’s death. I’m trying to find a balance between what is journalistic and what is lasting.


What does Helen Mirren think about the changes?

She doesn’t like it. She gets angry when I do that.

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She has said that she was initially reluctant to play the queen again.


I told the producers that Helen has to have the first right of refusal — I knew she wouldn’t want to do it — but we could only go to other actresses once Helen says no. ... So then she read it and felt it was sufficiently different [from “The Queen”] and offered new challenges. There’s no question of it being filmable — it’s so theatrical. I think she felt liberated by that.

Why did you want to return to the material you covered in “The Queen”?

The scenes I most enjoyed writing in the film were the ones between the Queen and Tony Blair. ... No one will ever know what is said in those meetings and there are so many of them. If you have a four-year term, you will probably sit with her 70 or 90 times. And that’s an awful lot. ... The only other relationship like that is a therapeutic one.

How did you research the private meetings between the queen and her prime ministers?


I didn’t speak to any prime ministers, but I spoke to people quite close to them. I also spoke with various ministers, and people I spoke to for “The Queen.” ... We would certainly hear back if we got anything wrong. So far we haven’t heard anything.

Do you think “The Audience” will come to the U.S.?

I think we very much want to. I think Helen needs a rest. I would like to make changes — the history of our two countries, there’s a lot of shared diplomatic and cultural history. And so there’s quite a lot that I want to do with that.



‘The Audience’

What: The National Theatre Live will broadcast a live performance of the play, starring Helen Mirren, to cinemas around the world, with encore screenings.

Where: Downtown Independent, James Bridges Theatre at UCLA, Irvine Barclay Theatre, and other locations


When: 11 a.m. Thu. at Downtown Independent. Encore screenings to follow.

Tickets: Varies by location