In one of his final interviews, Mike Nichols said he considered “Angels in America”–the sprawling 2003 HBO mini-series adapted from the Tony Kushner play about the AIDs crisis—-as the crowning achievement of his career.
“When I did ‘Angels in America,’ and I had Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, Mary-Louise Parker and Al Pacino, it was like being in heaven a little early,” Nichols said.
Nichols, the director of classic films “The Graduate,” “Working Girl” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” died at 83. He spoke to me in November 2013 by phone for a profile I was working on Emma Thompson, who appeared in three of his films.
Remembrances of Nichols poured in from across the entertainment industry on Thursday, with many hailing him as a beloved visionary. But Nichols admitted that he did manage to make an enemy out of Bill Clinton after 1998’s “Primary Colors,” a political comedy starring John Travolta as a philandering but charismatic presidential candidate who bears a striking resemblance to you know who. “It never occurred to any of us that he’d be horrified by the movie, but of course he would be,” Nichols said. Thompsons’ first lady in the comedy seems to be channeling Hillary Clinton. “To some extent, yes,” Nichols admitted. “But she didn’t hold herself to literalness.”
Nichols said he enjoyed directing comedians, such as Thompson and Robin Williams (“The Birdcage”), because they understood the craft of acting the best. “To be able to be funny in character is the essence of acting, including serious acting,” Nichols said.
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Nichols acknowledged the rampant sexism in Hollywood, where producers and directors try to force women to retire once they hit 30. “As an actress, you have to be very alert, or they try to get you to play a mother at 38 or 40,” Nichols said. “In Hollywood, you’re old at 22 if you’re a woman.”
Nichols talked about the close bond he’d formed with Thompson over the years. “It seems like we’ve known each other forever. She’s a hell of a cook,” Nichols said, who fondly reminisced about attending dinner parties in her London home with pasta and parlor games. “I would love nothing more than to work with her again,” Nichols said. “It’s my greatest happiness.”