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

The Real Thing Production Still - H 2014
Joan Marcus

The Real Thing Production Still - H 2014

Stoppard, whose play 'The Real Thing' was directed by Nichols on Broadway in 1984, reflects on Nichols' legacy in The Hollywood Reporter's tribute

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

Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing was directed by Mike Nichols on Broadway in 1984.

When you stop talking about his genius and brilliance and all that, the simple thing was, he was the pleasantest person to be with. He was amiable, he was funny, he was relaxing and relaxed.

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As a director, the thing about Mike is that he understood something which is often forgotten or sidelined but from a writer's point of view is paramount. And this is that without clarity of utterance on the actor's part, all the subtlety of interpretation and nuance counts for nothing if the audience doesn't know what the line was. If you don't know what is being said, the rest of the actor's work is wasted.

Mike looked after the language; Mike looked after the utterance.

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And here's a very small memory from The Real Thing. We were sitting in the audience during a tech rehearsal. A big stagehand walks into the middle of the stage, and he's holding two slightly different chairs, one in each hand. He shouts, 'Mike, which chair?' And Mike instantaneously points and says, 'That one!' And the man walks away. And I'm thinking, 'Why?' I could never be a director; I would have no idea which chair. They didn't seem that different to me.

Later I said to him, 'Would you mind telling me why you chose that chair?' And he said: 'It didn't matter. The important thing is to answer immediately. You can always change your mind later.' "

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

Emma Thompson, Rita Moreno on Working With the Director

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