Audra McDonald Remembers Mike Nichols: "One Cannot Overstate His Brilliance"

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The legendary singer and actress worked with him on 'Wit'

By the time Audra McDonald got to work with Mike Nichols, she was 31 and had already won three Tony awards but had done limited work in television or movies.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson, Wit starred Emma Thompson as a poetry professor suffering the indignities of her remaining days on a cancer ward. McDonald received an Emmy nomination playing the nurse who ministers to the dying woman in what Roger Ebert called one of the best films of 2002, even though it was never theatrically released.

“I learned so much being with him and feel blessed to have someone like that in my life, a giant like that in my life who touched so many,” McDonald tells The Hollywood Reporter about Nichols, who died Wednesday. “I’m pretty devastated about it, actually. It was horrible news to wake up to this morning.”

She recalls last seeing Nichols in May when he was in the audience during a live recording of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, for which she won her record sixth Tony. “One cannot overstate his brilliance or his importance as far as the theater and comedy and film are concerned. But more than that, he was such a kind and funny man. I’m pretty devastated that he’s gone.”

When Joan Rivers was laid to rest back in September, McDonald sang the Charlie Chaplin composition "Smile" in tribute to the legendary comedian. With Broadway dimming its lights for Nichols, there will no doubt be solemn farewells and memorials to follow, and McDonald says she’d like to pay her respects in whatever capacity Nichols’ family feels is appropriate.

“My thoughts are with Diane and his kids and grandkids and all of us, in a way,” says McDonald, “because we lost a great one today. It’s not been a good year, we’ve lost a lot of really great, great giants in the field, and it’s sad.”

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