When PBS announced their American Masters documentary on Mike Nichols, I was relieved. Like so many admirers of his work --as a comedian with his partner Elaine May, as a director of theater (Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, to name one) and film (The Graduate, THE film of its era, to name one), I grieved when he died in November of 2014. Perhaps a film would bring closure. Deeply satisfying, the film that airs on January 29, directed by Elaine May and produced by Julian Schlossberg, features so many who have worked with him: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, but best of all, it has Mike Nichols.
Julian Schlossberg had filmed an interview with Mike Nichols, and realized he could make a film and direct it, but then suggested to Elaine May that she should do it: "Okay, I will," she said. When I spoke to Schlossberg this week, he was speaking for both of them, saying they were most pleased to have Nichols narrate his own story, talking about his leaving Berlin as a little boy, as Hitler's power rose, his strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Nichols was forthcoming on how he was "strange" in high school, and how, when people commented on a seven year gap between projects suggesting he was afraid. "Well, maybe I was afraid," he admitted on camera. They captured his wit and wisdom, his preference for directing over acting. When he talks about Meryl Streep, he gets caught up with her talent and cries.
Of course there were some who Schlossberg wished they could have interviewed, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Daniel Craig--"He was busy with the next Bond movie. Everyone was great; everyone wanted to talk." Like Schlossberg who frequently had lunch with Nichols, everyone had stories. Schlossberg said whenever he was with Nichols, he always learned something: "On plot and story, Mike would say, 'here's a plot. The king is dead. The queen is dead. But here is a story: The king is dead. He died of a broken heart.'"
The stories and more may make for another film. For those of us who have not yet had enough of Mike Nichols, Julian Schlossberg is planning a sequel, The Pleasure of his Company, featuring friends and colleagues recounting all the great anecdotes. In addition, he said, Doug McGrath made a film for HBO, done at the end of Nichols' life, to air at the end of February. And no, Diane Sawyer was not interviewed.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.