‘Foxcatcher’ writer Dan Futterman recalls Mike Nichols’ case of the ‘Birdcage’ giggles

When we lost Robin Williams and Mike Nichols this year, I couldn't help but feel an added pang of sadness as the talented actor and director each gifted us with one of the great comedies of the 1990s: “The Birdcage.” The film boasts one of my favorite awards season victories, in fact, a Screen Actors Guild win for Best Ensemble at the industry organization's third annual ceremony in 1997. One of the individuals who shared in that victory was Dan Futterman, who finds himself on the circuit again this year as a screenwriter on Bennet Miller's “Foxcatcher.”

I recently spoke to Futterman (and co-writer E. Max Frye) about that project, so look for that in the coming days. But I was eager to hear his thoughts on having a front row seat to the fireworks being generated by that cast as well. It's a story he's shared before but I thought it worth reiterating.

“I didn”t really keep in touch all that much with either Robin or Mike, but I remember how incredibly welcoming they were,” he recalled. “I was still a novice, as was Calista Flockhart. Hank Azaria hadn”t done all that much, either. Nathan Lane had been on stage all his life but he”d never really been in a role like that. And there was a real feeling of excitement that there were some veterans and some real newcomers. We were all there all day long because there are so many big scenes with a lot of people.”

What he remembers really strongly, though, was Nichols' disruptive case of the giggles.

“He was sitting next to Elaine May – they were lifelong friends – and he would be giggling so much at the takes that they had to move his chair into another room, and just strung the chord to his earphones, because he couldn”t be in the same room,” Futterman said. “Over and over again, it was always so funny to him. And I remember that kind of freshness brought to each moment, that Robin certainly did with lots of improvisation and just his exuberance and excitement, and then Mike did it to directing. Everything excited him.”

Futterman has kept in touch with Rodrigo Garcia, however, who operated camera on the film for director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki and is now of course a director in his own right. And he furthermore noted that working with Lubezki was a point of pride for Nichols as well. “Chivo had done 'A Little Princess,' but this was his first really big studio movie,” Futterman said. “And that was fulfilling to Mike, after a long career, to be able to find new and exciting people to work with.”

I'm pretty sure “The Birdcage” is on Netflix. I'd say now's as good a time as any for a revisit.