LOS ANGELES – A week ago the film world lost one of the masters, legendary director Mike Nichols. Naturally the news sent a shockwave through the tight-knit community as Nichols' reach was pretty deep, the lives he had touched, and certainly, the careers he had affected. One of them was Al Pacino.
Pacino starred in Nichols' adaptation of Tony Kushner's Broadway landmark “Angels in America” alongside great actors putting out great work, from Emma Thompson to Meryl Streep to Jeffrey Wright and more. Many of them, including Pacino, showed up on our assessment of the great performances Nichols managed to draw out in his 40-plus years in the business.
“That happens in life, where we lose someone and it's palpable,” Pacino told me recently. “Everybody feels it. There's a void there. They're gone. I loved him. I just loved him. He was probably the greatest director I ever worked with.”
High praise from someone who has lined up as many top tier collaborations with directors as Nichols had with actors. That's a list, after all, that includes Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, Norman Jewison, William Friedkin, Arthur Hiller, Brian De Palma, Warren Beatty, Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh and David Mamet.
“Angels in America” was a landmark miniseries event for HBO in 2003. It went on to be laureled up one side and down the other, picking up a slew of prizes at the end of the year. Pacino himself won a Screen Actors Guild honor, a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance as a fictionalized version of famed attorney Roy M. Cohn.
“First of all, I knew him, so I would consider him a friend,” Pacino said of Nichols, who had never worked with prior to the miniseries. “We didn't see each other a lot. We were on two coasts. But he's helped me a lot in my personal life. He made the movie in such a way that – the very great ones, if you're lucky enough to be around them when they're making a movie, the environment is so actor-friendly, crew-friendly, people-friendly and warm. True, I was doing a great writer's work – Tony Kushner – but of course. But still, it was so easy. And you knew you were in the hands of a master. You knew that a master was going to be acting as a sensor, because he so knew what he wanted and understood things so deeply that you didn't think about it. You just thought, 'I'll do this or I'll do that and I know that I'm going to be taken care of. This man will mold it and make it, will sculpt it, will do something with it. So it gives you a sense of freedom. Hard to find anyone like that again.”