Mike Nichols Remembered: Emma Thompson, Rita Moreno on Working With the Director

Courtesy Everett Collection
'Primary Colors'

Amy Pascal, Donna Langley, Shiri Appleby and Sara Ramirez also are among those who reflect on Nichols' legacy in The Hollywood Reporter's tribute

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"Working with Nichols was like going to an eclectic, unorthodox and highly original university. We would all get to wander about in the corridors and high ceilings of his mind, each making different discoveries according to our tastes and aptitudes. Then, later, we would find that those discoveries applied to the rest of our lives. It was also like being at some party where the drinks were always excellent and everyone who ever said anything worth hearing was either present or being accurately quoted. There was no end to the laughing. There were periods of hilarity I'm surprised I survived." — Emma Thompson, who starred in 1998's Primary Colors

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"When you did a take, he was just crumbling with appreciation. He loved the creative spark. That scene when Jack Nicholson goes to the call girl and makes her talk to him to get him sexually excited. He makes her say that nobody is as good as he is, as smart and sexy. It was such a bizarre but an extraordinary scene. At the time, it seemed kind of porny. My husband was dead set against me doing it, so I initially turned it down. But Mike called. He gave me his address at Central Park West, and I met him there. And by the time he was through, you'd think he was offering me the lead in the movie. How could I say no? We worked on that scene for one whole week. It was a very difficult scene for an actress to do. I had to look right in the camera the whole time — I wasn't supposed to look at Jack. And I was on a hydraulic lift — as I talked, the platform would descend. Mike had only one direction for me. He just said, 'Rita, do a turn.' And that was all he needed to say. The character was an actress, doing her best to turn on the man, even though she probably hated his guts." — Rita Moreno, who starred in 1971's Carnal Knowledge

"We were standing at the craft services table, and he walked up to me and said, "You really have to appreciate these moments." I was confused, so later I waited in the hallway, and when he walked by, I asked him what he meant by that. He proceeded to say something I'll always remember: "For years I was scared to park in my parking spot [at Paramount] for fear that they thought I was a fraud. You have to train yourself to appreciate these moments and believe that you belong here." Shiri Appleby, who co-starred in 2007's Charlie Wilson's War

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"I remember watching the 2008 vice presidential debates with mike. We were both surprised to see Sarah Palin holding her own against Joe Biden. Mike looked at me in his inimitable way and said, 'This is turning out to be an unfortunate success.' " — Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO

"I will never forget him speaking to the cast and crew right before the curtain was about to go up: 'Tell the truth! Perform as if this is your last night of performing anything ever!' " — Sara Ramirez, who starred in 2005's Spamalot

"Mike made everything better. People. Movies. Conversation. Dinner. People who worked with him felt it was the greatest experience they ever had. Anyone who had the gargantuan good luck of working with him was changed forever." — Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, who as a young exec met him on the set of 1990's Postcards From the Edge

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"I knew I was too young, but I tried out for the lead in The Graduate and went through the three levels of casting. I learned [Nichols] was going to New York to meet an actor named Dustin Hoffman. I could feel the wind of inevitability go right up the back of my neck. But everyone who auditioned for the role that went to Dustin, Nike gave a part." — Richard Dreyfuss, who had an uncredited part in the graduate

"I recently received a thank-you note from him for a birthday gift. It arrived here on Tuesday [the day before his death]. It was the most uncanny thing. I read it three times because it was so delicious. And I thought, 'Oh, I miss him.' " — Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures

Read more from THR's tribute to Mike Nichols:

Aaron Sorkin on Mike Nichols: "The Most Talented Person I Have Ever Known"

Glenn Close Reveals Mike Nichols' Final, "Touching" Words to Her

'Birdcage' Actor Dan Futterman Recalls Mike Nichols Breaking Into Fits of Giggles on Set

Morgan Freeman Reveals the Phrase That "Exemplifies" Mike Nichols

Tom Stoppard on Mike Nichols: "The Pleasantest Person to Be With"

How Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky Became Mike Nichols: A Timeline

Critic's Notebook: Todd McCarthy Reflects on the Film Career of Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols: A Giant of the American Theater