Dan Futterman on 'Birdcage' Director Mike Nichols: "He Knew How to Draw the Best out of People"
The actor-writer recalls the late director's excitement at discovering new stars, veteran actors' trust and how he found the movie's signature song
Actor-writer Dan Futterman called in to Sirius XM radio on Thursday to remember his Birdcage director Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday night. Futterman, who's gone on to write films like Bennett Miller's Capote and Foxcatcher, played the son of Robin Williams and Nathan Lane's characters in the 1996 movie, which Nichols directed.
He was one of several relatively unknown actors to star in the film, along with a pre-Ally McBeal Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria and Nathan Lane, whom Futterman said hadn't really played a part like his role in The Birdcage before. Futterman recalled that Nichols seemed to particularly enjoy finding new stars.
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"I think what I remember most about him was how excited he was to discover new people. That movie was populated by a whole bunch of new people that don't seem new now," Futterman said of The Birdcage. "It was clearly exciting to him to do what he'd done with [one of his first movies], The Graduate — I mean, Dustin Hoffman was out of the blue in this part — to keep on doing that in his career. I don't know if it kept him excited and feeling young or what…That to me sort of epitomized him and his desire to push himself and do new things and work with new and exciting people."
Futterman who'd only appeared in three movies before The Birdcage, was also impressed by veteran actors' willingness to take chances with their performances and trust Nichols.
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"I think he knew how to draw the best out of people," Futterman said. "The really veteran actors, it amazed me just how much they wanted to put their performance in his hands and listen to him. It was a very new thing for me at the time and that really impressed me that people who'd done this so many times just wanted to trust somebody with their performance. They could take a leap and this person could catch them and make them look good."
Years later, Futterman was reminded of Nichols' kindness when the director reached out to him to tell him how much he loved Capote.
"I'd sort of fallen out of touch with him, but out of the blue after I'd written Capote and it had come out, he just reached out to say how much he loved the movie and how wonderful he thought the script was," he said. "I think what impressed me most about him was not just his talent but how warm a guy he was and what a mensch he was. It's unusual. It's a really unusual combination."
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When talk turned to Nichols interest in selecting music for his films, Futterman explained that the signature song for The Birdcage was supposed to be the Stephen Sondheim composition, that plays when Lane's character is rehearsing his torch song, but Nichols took a different track.
Listen to Futterman's Sirius XM interview below to hear that story and more of his recollections about working with Nichols.