by Landon Palmer.
The phrase “actor’s director” is thrown around a great deal, but there have been very few directors who knew how to work with actors quite like Mike Nichols. A former student of Lee Strasburg and a fervent believer in the revelatory power of improvisation, Nichols has directed some of the most notable performances in modern cinema.
His debut alone was evidence of his gift. For his first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the theater performer and director took on the mammoth task of adapting one of the most raw and acerbic plays of the 1960s to a film starring the most powerful couple in Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It’s now remembered as the best role of Taylor’s career.
His second film, The Graduate, showed an equal but opposite talent: his ability to get performances out of unknown actors that match their particular strengths. That film launched and defined Dustin Hoffman’s career. Since then, every Nichols film – from Carnal Knowledge to What Planet Are You From? – carried the promise that its cast would be used to the best of their talents.
So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the only filmmaker we would trust to turn Jack Nicholson into a werewolf.
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