Remembering Mike Nichols: From Comic to Director

vintage typewriter on sepia.jpg

Today is Mike Nichol's birthday. He would have been 86 years old. What a mega-talent and inspiration he was to writers, actors, directors, and others.

He directed some wonderful films, including The GraduateSilkwoodWorking GirlWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Heartburn. And he directed plays, from what I believe was his final one, Betrayal (which sold out for all performances before the play even opened), to years ago directing a young unknown named Whoopi Goldberg in her one-act play that took her from obscurity to being a star.

He Grew Up a Loner...

Later in life he said that growing up a loner gifted him with the ability to know what people were thinking. I think he likely meant that he could easily, and often correctly, interpret people's emotions and motivations, which makes me think of "truth wizards." This is a term coined by research psychologists about people who have an uncanny way of detecting liars, as well as other emotions/motivations within a person. Truth wizards have typically grown up in difficult environments where, as children, they learned to carefully observe people as a means of survival, really. I know about truth wizards from researching them years ago for an article, and later a murder-mystery novel featuring a character who was a truth wizard (Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas).

From Loner to Famous Comic

 Elaine May and Mike Nichols, 1960 (image is in public domain)

Elaine May and Mike Nichols, 1960 (image is in public domain)

After Mike Nichols started college, he said he was a loner no more. His first success as an artist was as part of the two-person comedy team with Elaine May. After that came directing plays, then film. He won every award as a director: the Emmy, Oscar, Tony...I may have missed one in that line-up.

What I like about reading his quotes on directing film and plays is that his words apply to writing, too.

A Few Favorite Nichols' Quotes

Here's a few of my favorite Mike Nichols' quotes. As I mentioned above, he was talking about film-making, but his thoughts on technique and process apply to crafting stories and characters as well.

"There are only three kinds of scenes: a fight, a seduction or a negotiation." 

"A movie is like a person. You either trust it or you don't."

"I've always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another, and wishing they were doing a third. The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That's what interests me the most." 

"I think the audience asks the question, 'Why are you telling me this?'...there must be a specific answer."