Director Mike Nichols, who passed away Thursday at the age of 83, left behind a legacy of not only great works of stage and screen, he was also very eloquent and funny when talking about his process as an artist. Here are a few bits of wisdom from his brilliant career.
At the 11th Annual Emmy Awards in 1959, Nichols, with his comedy partner Elaine May, performed a bit wherein he accepted an award for “Total Mediocrity.”
“The measure of my success,” an in-character Nichols said to the room full of TV producers and stars, “is that, in ten years of producing, we have not received one letter of any kind.” Given Nichols’ status as one of the greats of the performing arts, and one of the few to have achieved the EGOT, this sly satiric bit is even funnier 55 years later.
Nichols directed the Broadway hit Spamalot in 2005. In this episode of Charlie Rose, he talks about bringing the musical adaptation of cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the stage. At 12:30, Nichols tells Rose talks about casting Sara Ramirez in her Tony-winning role that led to her breakout success on Grey’s Anatomy.
In 2011, Nichols joined a panel discussion celebrating the 50th anniversary of Joseph Heller’s classic WWII novel Catch-22. Here, moderator Lesley Stahl asked Nichols to recount how his 1970 film adaptation—declared a failure at the time but an underrated gem today—came about.
In 2012, WNYC-FM’s "The Greene Space" interviewed Nichols and the cast of his Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, which starred another late legend, Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Willy Loman. In this clip, Nichols talks about great actors’ reticence to talk about their process, and gives insight into his own as a director for stage.
Accepting the Tony Award for directing Death of a Salesman, a farklempt Nichols waxed poetic about theatre, proclaiming that “everyone in this room knows what it’s like to be a salesman…. A salesman has got to dream. It goes with the territory.”