From left: Mike Nichols, Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith, wearing a dress she eventually donated to Planet Hollywood.
From left: Mike Nichols, Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith, wearing a dress she eventually donated to Planet Hollywood.
Andy Schwartz/20th century fox/Everett Collection

'Working Girl' Turns 30: On-Set Romances and Secrets of the Staten Island Ferry Revealed in Juicy Oral History

by Chris Gardner
December 03, 2018, 6:15am PST

Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver and more insiders tell the never-told tales behind an era-defining hit: who was almost cast, a creepy Kevin Spacey cameo and the talent of the “world-class therapist" Mike Nichols.

Before the #MeToo and Time's Up movements — before Third Wave feminism in the 1990s and Girl Power in the 2000s — there was Tess McGill, a big-haired, hoops-wearing secretary from Staten Island who masqueraded as her unscrupulous boss Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) in order to reclaim a stolen idea and package an innovative acquisition, all with the help of dashing executive Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).

McGill vacuumed topless and had "a bod for sin," and the character, played by Melanie Griffith in Mike Nichols' 1988 romantic comedy Working Girl, was also a breakthrough in how women were portrayed on film, particularly in the workplace.

To celebrate this classic's 30th anniversary, THR talked to Griffith about how she fought for the part ("The studio didn't want me") as well as to co-stars Ford and Weaver, writer Kevin Wade, producer Doug Wick and a slew of others who helped bring Tess to the big screen for an oral history that reveals all — from the lasting legacy of its late director (Nichols passed away in 2014 at age 83) to the on-set romances that never were (Griffith admits she failed in her attempts to lure Baldwin into bed). 

The Light Bulb Moment: "Women in Sneakers"

KEVIN WADE, screenwriter I had been working as a bartender in New York City — places like The Other End, The Bitter End, Spring Street Bar and eventually Spring Street Natural Restaurant — and then I had some success as a playwright with my first play, Key Exchange, which debuted in New York in 1981 with [actress] Brooke Adams. It ran off-Broadway for a couple of years, then in Los Angeles for a year and a half. They made a movie about it in 1985, so I was no longer bartending and could actually afford a subway token. 

DOUG WICK, producer I worked for producer Alan Pakula for four years. Off that, I got a producing deal at United Artists. I had seen Key Exchange and thought Kevin was incredibly talented. I was living in Manhattan at the time, and so Kevin and I started working together on a project, a thriller.

WADE It never got made.

WICK Then, one day in 1985 or early '86, while walking in lower Manhattan, I saw a woman who from the ankles up was very chic, but she was wearing tennis shoes. In those days, that wasn't fashionable. I talked to Kevin about doing a story about those girls — the outsider with a face pressed against the glass longing for all of those shiny things inside the jewel of Manhattan.

WADE Back then, I spent a lot of time on a bicycle riding around New York. There was an abandoned roadway I would get on in the Village and take down to Battery Park. I would see the Staten Island Ferry coming over and those women in sneakers getting off and then stopping to change into [dress] shoes. That's how I discovered this story — a modern-day immigrant story of a person who comes here not really speaking the language, not with the right clothes, not knowing the customs, but with smarts. It's the Horatio Alger story. I knew right away it was about a young woman.

WICK Kevin and I worked out a story. I pitched it to several places, and they all passed. A lot of directors said it was a TV movie.

WADE I had an agent who I am not going to name. I showed him the first draft and he was extremely critical. He said, “You know, this is fantasyland. This is never going to get made.” I parted ways with this agent shortly thereafter.

WICK But I went to Los Angeles and pitched it to Marcia Nasatir and Carol Baum at Fox, which bought it. So then Kevin and I went to work on it. In the early days, we were concerned about Tess' likability. So in an early draft, she used to have a dying mother. I sent it to director Jim Bridges (The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy), and he signed on. Jim knew a lot about craft, so he was helpful with development and eventually we got Demi Moore. She had done some good work, Jim liked her and we liked her. In the first draft, the Katharine Parker character was a man. I got a call from Kevin, and he said, "I've got a great idea." He says, "[Tess] should be working for a woman."

WADE I remember very distinctly writing [Tess] exactly as I would write a guy. I didn't change a thing. I thought to myself, "Maybe the secret to this is don't make her a woman. Just make her a character."

Preproduction: "I Went to Mike Nichols University"

WICK But then Ivan Boesky happened on Wall Street. [Ivan Boesky was a stock trader who went to prison for his role in an insider-trading scandal and the inspiration for the Gordon Gekko character in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.] Jim called and said he just felt that he wanted to do a movie that was more kind of cutting-edge important, more aggressively political, and so he dropped out. [Bridges went on to direct Bright Lights, Big City.] It was really devastating. We’d been working on it for a few years, and it completely went back to square one. Meanwhile we kept getting new administrations at the studio.

WADE There was a bit of a fallow period, but Fox seemed to be fairly committed to making it with Leonard Goldberg, who, at the time, was head of the studio. I signed with a new agent, Sam Cohn [of ICM], during that period and he put the screenplay into Mike Nichols' hands.

WICK We amazingly got word back that Mike Nichols was interested and that I should fly to meet with him in Arkansas, where he was shooting Biloxi Blues. Mike treated me like I was David O. Selznick when I got to the set — just the most kind, open, respectful, classy behavior — and he loved the script. Being a Jew from Germany, coming here, being an immigrant facing all kinds of barriers yet wanting to have it all — he connected to it from a very gut, primal place. Mike didn’t need to add something else to make it important. What he did was he looked at every inch of it and explored how to both go more specific every detail about wardrobe, every relationship.

WADE I went to Mike Nichols university, which involved going to Mike's townhouse on Manhattan's East Side. Mike and I would sit and go through the script. He drew things out of you. It was partly working with a world-class director and partly with a world-class therapist who would get you to open up. Why did you write this in this way? Why did you make her a woman? Why don’t we, as an exercise, completely move the genre. One day, having great fun, he said, “Ok, now let’s play it as some bad version of Gone With The Wind?”

WICK Casting began, and we talked about a lot of people to play Tess. Because it was Mike directing, everyone was interested. I remember Mike once calling me and saying Madonna was on The Tonight Show. "Watch her — there's something very interesting about her." We talked about Michelle Pfeiffer, who, at the time, was the most beautiful woman in the world. But we observed that if you cast someone like that, there would've been a line of guys at her desk trying to marry her. We needed an old-fashioned movie star. Someone who, when they had glasses on, you believed they had a little anonymity, and as soon as they took them off, you saw they were a beauty. You needed someone fiercely intelligent but in a slightly more unique way.

PHYLLIS CARLYLE, Griffith's manager Melanie had been a child star since she was 13 or 14. Then she hit a rough patch with substance abuse. When I met her, she really wanted to find her way back. We were fortunate enough to get a movie for her called Something Wild, directed by Jonathan Demme [released in 1986]. It re-broke Melanie's career. We got the script for Working Girl before that film came out, and we both read it and loved it. But Scott Rudin was running Fox by that point, and he did not want Melanie. He wanted Shelley Long, who at the time was on Cheers and was a big deal. We decided to go after Working Girl anyway. Melanie's agent at the time, Nicole David [of William Morris], and I hatched a plot. We got Jonathan Demme to agree — privately, very privately — to show Something Wild to Mike Nichols.

MELANIE GRIFFITH They didn't even want to see me for the movie. My agent told me, "Listen, I'm having a hard time getting you in." The studio wanted a bigger name. I mean, I wasn't very much of a name, but I loved this role, and I knew I could do it. My story is Tess' story. I went to go do another movie, and when I got back, [my reps] told me, "You have to fly to New York tomorrow and you're going to read for Mike Nichols." I splurged on this beautiful white linen suit. I thought I would look really cool and very businesslike, very Tess McGill. I got to New York, and it was 80 degrees. I was so hot. I walked into the room to meet Mike, but it wasn't just Mike, it was Doug Wick and every fucking bigwig that was involved with the movie. There were like 12 people in there. They asked me to pick three things to read, and I really had a hard time doing that. I said, "I'll read anything, I'll go through the whole script, let's just start at the beginning." I obviously didn't do that, but I did read for them and they said, "Thank you." And I left.

JULIET TAYLOR, casting director She was the girl. It was almost a visceral reaction. She was adorable, funny, vulnerable, sexy — everything. And real. But the studio was disappointed because she wasn't famous. They would have liked a star in the part. Mike and I had already kind of fallen for Alec Baldwin and wanted him to play [Jack Trainer], but the studio was catatonic about that. They did not want two unknowns in the leads.

GRIFFITH I heard two days later that Mike really loved me but that the studio was not that hot for me. So my agent negotiated for a screen test. 

CARLYLE At the same time, I had just finished developing The Accidental Tourist [which Carlyle executive produced]. I had developed it with Melanie in mind and I’d brought Larry Kasdan on to direct. I was very, very young at the time and slightly naive and I just thought, "Well, I developed this for Melanie and she's going to do it." Larry said no. Geena Davis’s agent and I were good friends; he had called and said there’s someone I want you to meet. I met Geena at the same time Larry wanted to test her for Accidental Tourist. He also saw Melanie and wanted to test her, too. Scott Rudin said, "If she tests for anything else she's out and can’t test for Working Girl." Melanie ended up at my house for the weekend and we went through this torch of the damned thinking process. We thought about what would be right for her career because we had worked so hard for a couple of years to rebuild and this was the moment. I told her, “Whoever plays Muriel in Accidental Tourist could win the Academy Award and whoever does Working Girl will be a star.” She went upstairs for about an hour, came down and said, “I've made a decision.” I said, “Who are we?” (Laughs.) She said, “I want to take a shot at Working Girl. This is the one that’s right for me. I'm not quite ready for Accidental Tourist.” I said, “Well then, that’s a decision.” 

GRIFFITH I did the screen test and it was the scene where I say, “I have a head for business, and a bod for sin.” I had to wait, I don’t know how long it was, to find out. Then when I got the call, it was so unbelievable. Cool, I get to play this person that for some reason I have in my bones.

WADE [The studio] wanted some insurance, so Sigourney Weaver came on. Mike had worked with her before.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER Luckily, I'd worked with Mike on Hurlyburly, and he thought we could have a lot of fun with Katharine because she is such a special sort of person. She's one of these faux aristocrats. Having grown up in New York, you meet all kinds of people like that.

WADE But we still needed a third leg for the stool, for Jack Trainer. If you look at the screenplay that role is really what you would call the ingénue role — he is the object of the affection. To Mike’s credit, he said, “It would be great if we could get Harrison Ford.” We all went, “Yeah,” and he said, “No, no, I am serious. He would have great fun with this.”

HARRISON FORD It was a tactic of mine at the time to look for something different to what I had lately done. I mean, that's usually how the choice was made.

WICK We had Harrison and Sigourney and then the studio said that they didn’t want to pay for them. So, we were going to do another version where Alec Baldwin was going to play the Harrison Ford part because he was affordable. Harrison was the biggest movie star in the world at the time after having done Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and Sigourney had done Alien. Then, the studio called back and said, "No, we want to pay for Harrison and Sigourney." So, Mike had to call Alec and say, "Look, I'm really sorry. The circumstances have changed. Would you do this other part?" Alec understood and was so lovely about it. He came in and really nailed that character. It was an awkward adjustment.

WADE We were all signed up and about ready to start production, and my agent Sam Cohn, who also represented Mike and I believe Sigourney, hosted a lunch for us at the Russian Tea Room. Sam was already seated, and we all came in at once and happened to walk by my former agent’s table. He looked up and his jaw kind of hit the table. He beckoned me over and asked, “Is that the cast for that script you wrote?” I said, “Yeah.” He stood up, shook his head and didn’t have much to say after that.

WICK What Mike did then that was so great is we read together. Obviously, he knew that from theater. Mike was wonderfully collaborative so that if there was some motivation that felt murky or there was an opportunity to explore it some other way, it was always a great discussion. For me and Kevin, it was the most thrilling master class of all-time because Mike is the smartest person I've ever worked with and he was an actor so was brilliant about performance.

WEAVER It was such a luxury, I mean, looking back, even more of a luxury. We used the time as an ensemble to build the ensemble, but also, I remember Mike was particularly focused on giving Melanie a complete transformation physically. Mike had us all watch Pygmalion, the movie, not the musical. And then they spent a lot of time talking about, you know, the hair and everything. We all got to be part of everything. 

GRIFFITH For two weeks we were in a studio somewhere in New York, and we all worked on the script. And it was beautiful because we got to go through all of it on a very deep level. It was an intense time for me. I was 30 years old, had my first child, was single and I was trying to understand Pygmalion and how that correlated to Working Girl. At the time, it was like, "What the fuck do you mean?" It wasn't like I knew what Pygmalion was.

JOAN CUSACK I feel like I was kind of spoiled forever with Mike because he had a dialect coach for us and we had rehearsals. I remember being really idealistic about it, too. I came up with this idea that I should get paid what real secretaries get paid. My dad was like, "You're crazy. No one is even going to know that."

Griffith Gets Lucky: "Yeah, tell me about mergers and acquisitions all you want!"

GRIFFITH Our first day of filming was actually for the first shot in the film on the ferry, and we shot it illegally. There we were — with Joan Cusack — with the big hair and the tennis shoes with all just regular people on the Staten Island Ferry. We shot it without anybody knowing. It was like, "Here we go, now I'm Tess."

CUSACK Mike gave such brilliant direction, like when we got off the ferry, he said, "Be thinking something in your head. That's what people do as they walk off a boat, they think about their day or their life." It was such a cool piece of direction. We worked with Roy Helland, the hair and makeup artist who has been Meryl Streep’s artist forever and ever. He bleached the ends of my hair so it looked like it was burnt. It was so creative. He also said the teasing should take only as long as the ferry ride, so it took 20 minutes and that was my real hair. I always felt like it was like a Kabuki mask — it came on and instantly you were transformed.

WICK You and a friend start talking about some girl on a ferry, and then a few years later, you're with one of the greatest directors in the world and 100 people filming it. It's very misleading about how the film business works. It was such a thrilling visual and the essence of the movie — the Staten Island ferry moving towards New York. 

ANN ROTH, costume designer Tess lives in Staten Island, and if you sat at the foot of the ferry when it dumped everybody off, that's what it looked like. We did not tone it up or tone it down. We did the real thing, not a Hollywood version. Some of Melanie's wardrobe I bought in the ground floor of the World Trade Center. There were shops down there. I knew what kind of salary she had, so the clothes were secretarial in that way. It represented the New York working class in the '80s, plus a little bit of Wall Street with Sigourney's character.

WEAVER I don’t know how she managed to come up with these neat little jackets and sort of swirling skirts so that when I moved I could knock over everything. Everyone always knew I was coming. I found Katharine when I got to her office and saw her ski boots and gym equipment. It helped me understand the size of the person I was going to play, her vision of herself, her audacity, her confidence.

NORA DUNN We shot in World Trade Center Building 7 that was taken down [on 9/11]. At the time it was right after the [Wall Street] crash, so there were many floors that were empty. Our dressing rooms used to be offices, and Sigourney came in to introduce herself during a fitting. She said, “Hello, Ann” and they embraced. I thought, "Wow, that’s a movie star!" Someone brought in a vase to give to Ann and she said, “Oh, another vase. I've never bought a vase in my life. I've never had to.” (Laughs.) I was just, like, "Oh, my God I love this. I love this so much."

TAYLOR Mike put Alec in the other role as the boyfriend — that was Alec's first significant part.

GRIFFITH Alec Baldwin is handsome and charming, and I just had such a crush on him. But he wouldn't go there with me. I was like, "Oh come on, have a romance with me!" But no, Alec said, "I can't do this with people I work with." He's a sweetheart. But then Mike came to me one day and said that there was this investment banker, a young guy named Liam Dalton, who he wanted me to work with, to teach me about mergers and acquisitions. I was like, "Oh great, I have to work with some dork from Wall Street." And then this guy walked in, and he was so gorgeous, so sexy. I was like, "Yeah, tell me about mergers and acquisitions all you want." We had an incredible romance. He was my love for a long time after that too. We're still friends. He lives in New York, is married and has four kids. He actually managed some money for me for a while. Mike knew about it and thought it was great, but he wanted me to make sure I concentrated on the job.

WICK Mike was courting Diane Sawyer while we were shooting, so it was lovely to see him getting serious about her while we were filming this romantic movie. He would have lunch with her some days.

FORD It was more like a party than a movie. I always loved shooting in New York, especially with Mike, because we never failed to have a nice lunch. He was such a funny fucker and so smart and generous and a good, kind human being who always knew where all the good restaurants were.

DUNN In between shots in the office, we would be wheeling around on our chairs and we would wheel around Harrison Ford. Everywhere he went, we were there. We all had such a crush on him. One time we were shooting at night because I was rehearsing Saturday Night Live during the day. I was walking into the makeup truck, and Harrison walked up to me and said, "I hear that you're working on a different project and that's why we're working tonight. What are you working on?" I could barely speak. I said, "I'm working on Saturday Night Live." And he said, "Oh, yeah, sorry, I haven't seen it." And I go, "Oh, it's not that good." (Laughs.) I disowned everything about myself. I even had my hand in my pocket wrenching off my wedding ring. I turned into a complete ignoramus. I came home very late that night, like five in the morning, and my husband was in bed. He said, “Oh, I'm glad you're home. I have a little cough.” And I said, “Why don't you take better care of yourself?” (Laughs.) I was such a traitor because I was blown away by Harrison Ford. He was in such great shape and such an absolutely perfect movie star. The whole package.  

WEAVER Sam O’Steen came in every day to see Mike. He was his editor and would tell Mike what shots he needed for each scene. We were never there agonizing or spending a lot of time on how to shoot something. One of the most fun things I got to do was speak German when I’m calling Helmut about the reservation, standing there in my little ski boots. Mike had given me the German a couple of nights before. The accent was so over the top and outrageous. One of my lines was, “Did you tell him it was me?” That’s sort of Katherine’s MO through the whole thing, you know? Separate rules for me, please.

ROTH Sigourney speaking German is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. My daughter still repeats it.

Spacey's First Big Role: "A Strange Coincidence"

WADE I was on set at the very beginning but then later, there was a Writers Guild strike. I was directed by everybody to not be on the set. I was told I couldn’t have discussions with Mike, the actors or Doug. We held to it. One day that I was allowed to be there, it just so happened to be the day when they were filming a scene with Melanie and a young Kevin Spacey in the back of a limousine. We were waiting and waiting for Kevin to show up and couldn't find him. Allegedly, he was in a car on his way in from Manhattan out to where we were shooting in Queens. Obviously, we didn’t have cell phones so we couldn’t call him. At a certain point Mike turned to me, and said, “Go try on the wardrobe they’ve got for Spacey. You used to be an actor, right?” I was a failed actor in New York but I said yes. He said, “Well, you wrote the scene. You have got to know you have some idea how to play it.” I literally was two feet from wardrobe when there was a hubbub and Kevin Spacey rushed in all apologetic for having gotten delayed in the Midtown Tunnel. It was just traffic. I almost was in the film. 

GRIFFITH It's a strange coincidence that Kevin's now ostracized because of his actions, his sexual proclivity or whatever. In Working Girl, I jump out of the car because of his [character's] sexual advances. There are millions of women who had that experience, and that's why so many women love that movie and to this day tell me how we changed their lives.

WICK It's a vile scene with Kevin Spacey showing Tess a porno in the limo, like, "If you want to get promoted, you better deliver for me." The film dealt with sexual harassment, gender barriers, class barriers, privilege, snobbery from not having an Ivy League education. In many ways, the movie was way ahead of its time.

OLIVER PLATT I worked on the movie for maybe two days; it was a very short thing. I knew I was playing a pig. Kevin Spacey's character and I were the pigs, sort of the inciting #MeToo'ers. Here's the sad thing: Those pigs were a dime a dozen on Wall Street. I thought I was playing a rare pig, but what we've discovered is that there was nothing unusual about that guy at all.

The Topless Scene: "I Wouldn't Get Dressed to Vacuum"

GRIFFITH The most difficult scene was the one where I’m dancing with Trask (played by Philip Bosco) at his daughter’s wedding. That was difficult. I had a lot to say in a short period of time with innuendos. It took a lot of guts and it was all choreographed.

WEAVER When we walked into Katharine’s apartment to shoot that scene where you see where she lives, it was one of the most crazy-luxurious places. And that ridiculous set of Warhols as you come up the staircase! Mike gave those to me and I still have them. I think they’re in storage. I hope they’re all right. I always thought it was very funny, the colors they used, you know, like Calamine lotion pink and that sort of sickly green.

GRIFFITH That scene where Harrison carries me up the stairs, that was all about his back. We were really careful about his back — and my butt not being seen, making sure it stayed covered.

FORD I kind of ruined my back on one of the Indiana Jones movies, the one I did right before this. That was a sweet scene, though.

GRIFFITH But that scene where I vacuum without my top on, that was my idea. I remember when I went to Mike and I asked, "What about if I vacuum wearing just high heels and my panties, like would that be OK? His face was like, "Of course it would be fucking OK! Would you do that?" Originally it was a full bra and a slip and panties, and that's not how it would be if you're in a rush. That's how I lived — I wouldn't get dressed to vacuum.

ROTH I bought Tess’ lingerie in Monte Carlo when I was there for a tiny vacation. There were all these sorts of elderly ladies of the evening and it was one lingerie shop after the other. I bought all this stuff and Melanie got to wear those. The real horror is that in a million years, that sparkly black dress everyone talks about would not have fit Sigourney because it fit Melanie. I cheated on that. I asked Sigourney to let me see it on her, and it was ridiculously short. We rationalized it by saying that Sigourney had probably just had it in the closet for years.

AMY AQUINO I had just one scene with Melanie Griffith and it's the final scene. When I saw Melanie she immediately came up to me, introduced herself and apologized. “Oh, God, I was going to call you last night because I know how hard it is to come on to a set when everybody else has been working together for all this time and you haven't been but we're just so glad you're here." I've told people this story for the last 30 years. Then during the lunch break she invited me to her trailer to have lunch. She was going through the breakup and she had all the rags there. I just ate up her generosity of spirit ... and a salad. I finally got called late in the day for my scene where I'm sitting at the desk on the phone with my back to the hallway. Nichols is back there with the monitor, and my instinct was to project like crazy thinking that because the camera was back there, they'd never hear me. I had done nothing but theater so it made sense. We did our first take and Mike says, “That was just terrific. Now here's something you should know: We have a microphone, a tiny mike over your head, so you don't have to worry about us hearing you. Just talk like you're on the phone.” He could have made fun of me but he didn't at all. He understood completely and he just went with, “You know what? You don't have to worry about that. How great is this? There's a man with a boom hanging a mic.” And if you're going to have one scene in a movie, let it be the scene where the protagonist gets their dream handed to them. That's such a great scene.

WICK The first shot of the movie and the last shot of the movie gives you real insight into who Mike was. The first shot is, of course, the most beautiful helicopter shot of the Statue of Liberty circling and racing toward Manhattan. The last shot is Melanie getting her own office and the camera pans back and you see her office is just one of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. That thing you want so badly might be not everything you expect.

WADE One of the last days of filming, we were on the water with Bobby Greenhut, the famous line producer. He looked at me and said, “You don’t know what’s going on do you?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said that he had pretty much seen the movie through the assemblage of what Sam O’Steen had put together. He said, “I think you are going to be very happy and your life is going to change.” It was my first movie so I didn’t know what to expect. 

WICK The work had gone very well but the first cut we saw of the movie was 30 minutes longer, and it was problematic. Think about The Graduate and how Mike held shots and lingered on each moment. That's what he did here, but it gave you too much time to think. You don't want to spend too much time thinking about the contrivances of a fairy tale. And Carly Simon did a brilliant score, but it didn't work. The songs told you exactly what you were seeing.

CARLY SIMON, singer-songwriter Those songs were too on the nose. Some of that music went on my album that came out at the same time, but it wasn't in the movie. The movie was not accepted by my record company, anyway. Clive Davis didn't like it. But I read the script and right away I got the feeling of the ferry boat coming from Staten Island. I thought that there was something hymnal about crossing the river. Jim Hart, my husband at the time, helped me by directing me toward books I'd be inspired by, such as [James Joyce's] Finnegans Wake. The first word in that book is "Riverrun," just one word. I wrote the song ["Let the River Run"] over a weekend trip on Martha's Vineyard and brought it back to New York and played it for Mike and Diane when they came over for dinner. I can't remember if they cried, but they might have. Then I went to Europe to promote an album and Mike called and said, “You know, we played the beginning over the Eagles’ 'Witchy Woman' and everybody really likes it.” I broke out in tears. I said, “Mike, you gotta do what you want but if 'River Run' works so well, why would you?” Those words, I think, echoed in his ears and he went back to his editor. I was a hair away from losing that opening to "Witchy Woman."

WICK Barry Diller, then head of Fox, threw one of the greatest premiere parties I've ever been to on the lot. There were New York hot dogs, an ice-skating rink and lots and lots of drinking. My wife, Lucy Fisher, who was an executive at Warner Bros., was getting in our car at the valet. Suddenly, she leaned out the window and vomited. Everyone looked over, thinking she had had too much to drink. But really, she was pregnant with our second child. It was a strange cap on a great evening.

WADE I got out of the screening and the next thing I knew, I was standing between Barry Diller and Jane Fonda. Someone introduced me to Jane and she was very complimentary. She said, “Do you know what happened in there?” I said that it seemed the audience liked it. She said, “They really liked it, and that’s the toughest audience in the world.” That’s how magical the intersection of Melanie Griffith and that role were.

PLATT I met Harrison Ford at the premiere — Han freaking Solo!

GRIFFITH It changed everything. Everybody knew who I was all of a sudden, and I got a lot of jobs, and I never stopped working until I stopped working. I got nominated for a Golden Globe and won. That was crazy, and then I remember I was with Don [Johnson] in Miami because he was shooting Miami Vice. The phone rang early in the morning and Don answered. He woke me up and said, "You're nominated for the Academy Award." It was crazy. I started crying, happy tears. [The film received five Oscar nominations, including noms for best picture, director, best actress, best supporting actress for both Weaver and Cusack, and best original song for Simon.]

CARLYLE When Melanie happened, it was such a rare screen presence, you know? She was like the modern-day Judy Holliday. By the time the movie came out, she and Don Johnson rekindled their relationship and he became a major influence in Melanie’s life again and I was fired. 

WEAVER It was wonderful to have Joanie and Melanie and me all nominated. Mike always found what was most human about each moment. There's no one like Mike. Forever people will think of Joanie saying that line, "It's not even leather."

GRIFFITH We went to Europe and Japan for the world press junket. We were in London and I needed a dress for the Academy Awards, and I had just found out I was pregnant with Dakota. My PR guy Elliott said that there was this dress in Emanuel’s by the same person who made Princess Diana’s wedding dress. That’s the dress I wore. 

WICK I didn't think we would win because it's so hard for a comedy to get best picture, so I wasn't disappointed. Melanie's a different case because her performance was so singular. She really could have won. [Jodie Foster won instead for The Accused.] When we were leaving, we got outside and saw Carly Simon sitting on a step holding her Oscar [for original song]. Somehow, a car hadn't come for her. It's such an indelible image — Carly sitting there in all her glory with an Oscar and no ride — and so Lucy and I gave her a ride in our limo.

CARLYLE The crazy, crazy part of this story happened on the night of the Academy Awards. Believe or not it, it was Melanie who handed Geena Davis the Oscar for Accidental Tourist! I was gobsmacked. I sat there shaking my head. I do not believe this. I thought I was in never-never land. 

SIMON Winning an Oscar cured me of so many things all at once. It was a bouquet of curative events, from insecurity to getting up in front of an audience. It was miraculous. It’s one thing to have your children say, “Oh, mommy, that's nice.” But to have your peers say you're worthy of an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and a BAFTA? There have been some hard times in my life and working on Working Girl wasn’t one of them. I miss Mike more than almost anyone in the world.

WEAVER Mike hand-picked us and we all knew it. I had such a wonderful time working on the picture. I’ll never forget it. That whole hierarchy seems so ancient now with the executive and the secretary. It's almost like it took place in the ’50s, not the ‘80s. Everything has transformed since then in the workplace. It's particularly moving to see all this woman power [in the movie] about to be unleashed into the world, and rightly so. 

GRIFFITH If Tess were around today, she would be running Google. She'd have a lot of kids and maybe still be married to Jack. Playing her changed everything for me. It was great to have that life change be with such a positive story and a good message. It's an example of how to speak up and stand up for yourself and not sell yourself out for a job or a guy. You don’t have to acquiesce to a man or a woman.

A version of this story also appears in the 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.