Director Mike Nichols On Acting
Most people in the entertainment industry would agree that Mike Nichols was one of the greatest directors of our time. Below, are excerpts from an article written by Susan King for the Los Angeles Times in June of 2010. In it, Miss King spoke to Mr. Nichols about his thoughts on acting.
“All the theories that acting is reacting to imaginary circumstances as though they are real, and directing is turning psychology into behavior, those are all stabs at something that can’t be taught. All the great actors can’t talk about what they do, and they don’t want to begin to talk about it. They just do it.”
So how does Mike Nichols, who has directed such actors as Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis to Oscars, and countless others, including Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Cher and Kathy Bates, to Academy Award nominations, achieve so much success with actors?
“You spend time together, you and the actors and the writer — God willing, the writer is alive — and the designers in different segments. You spend some weeks together to begin with just finding the answers to several questions — What is this about? And if it is about X, what is X really like in life?”
When the questions are eventually answered, “then you can either build the set or prepare the things to get the movie made. This is the thrill you never get tired of.”
For actors, working with Nichols is an unforgettable experience. Hoffman recalls Nichols taking him aside one day on the set of “The Graduate” and asking him whether he was tired. Hoffman said he was because he had been spending his nights learning his lines.
“I remember vividly he said, ‘Well, I know you are trying hard, but this is the last time you are ever going to have to do that scene and it’s going to be on the screen for the rest of your life.’ That is him being a great coach.”
Robin Williams, who worked with Nichols onstage in “Waiting for Godot” and on-screen in “The Birdcage,” fondly recalls the director’s amazing laugh.
“He laughs so big,” Williams notes. “In ‘The Birdcage,’ when Gene Hackman was doing that story about the leaves and the fall and it’s so boring and so hysterical, Mike would be laughing so hard during the takes that eventually they put a blanket over him to try and see if they could shut him up.”
The joy of acting and working with great directors like Mike Nichols, brings with it an even more informed point of view. There is no one way of acting, you have to find what works for you and follow that. By studying and developing your craft, you’ll create an important foundation that will serve you over and over as you move forward in your career.
By Lynette McNeill
Acting Coach & Director
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