Broadway‘s John Golden Theatre was SRO Friday evening with invited guests and fans who’d scored tickets through a lottery to hear directors Mike Nichols and Jack O’Brien talk movies — specifically Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), Nichols’ freshman and sophomore efforts following an extraordinary run of Broadway hits that included Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park and The Odd Couple. The first film earned him an Oscar nomination for best director; with the second film, he took home the statuette.
The conversation, which was being filmed for HBO, began a day earlier, in private, and covered his years as half of the comedy team of Nichols and May (whose 306-performance Broadway run beginning in October 1960 had taken place in this same theater) and his collaborations with Simon and others. And it will pick up again in private on Monday, dealing with his years working both sides of the continent. But Friday night, the subject was filmmaking, a career Nichols practically fell into by accident.
“Who the hell are you, and how did you know you could do a film?” O’Brien asked, only half-kiddingly after a brief introduction. O’Brien — himself one of the theater’s most intelligent and crystalline directors (with Nichols he shares a special affinity for the work of Tom Stoppard) — explained that after recently publishing his autobiography, he’d encouraged Nichols to do the same. Out of Nichols’ demurral came the idea of filming the conversations; the timing is fortuitous, coming just a day after the announcement that Nichols will film an adaptation of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, starring Meryl Streep as a diva in the mold of Maria Callas, beginning after the turn of the year.