Mike Nichols – Clay Aiken’s Broadway Mentor

Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art

April 14, 2009 was the opening of a two-week, 17 film retrospective of Mike Nichols’ films that surveys the wide range of his directing career.  Spanning more than four decades, the series comprises a collection of Nichols’ most significant works in film, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967) to Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), and the HBO dramas Wit (2001) and Angels Knowledge (1971) and Catch 22 (1970) open and close the two-week exhibition.  The Mike Nichols Retrospective will run through May 1.

Opening night started with a question and answer session with Mr. Nichols.  An interesting question was asked by a reporter from indieWIRE.  The question, “How does it feel to be here at the MoMA?” was simple, but Mr. Nichols response was well thought out.

“It feels wonderful,” Mike NIchols told the indieWIRE reporter as he entered the MoMA screening of his 1971 film “Carnal Knowledge.  “Especially here at the MoMA where I used to come see movies as a kid.  All on my own, I’d come see old movies.  Now I’m here with old movies of my own.”

Rajendra Roy is the Chief Curator of Film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Mr. Roy and his colleagues felt honored to have been able to work with these films.  He had the following to say about Mike Nichols and his films:

“While remaining one of the most productive forces in the creative industries-film and theater-Mike Nichols’ body of work is clearly one most referenced and revered in contemporary cinema. His ability to form lasting and consistently fruitful partnerships with writers and actors places him among the standard bearers for the great collaborative traditions of Hollywood. Emerging filmmakers have much to learn from the intellect and timeless humanity of Nichols’ work.”

Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols

An accomplished performer and renowned stage director, Mike Nichols is among an elite few who have been awarded all of the major American entertainment awards: a Grammy, Emmy, Tony, and Oscar. In 2003 he was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2004 the Directors Guild of America honored him with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to the film medium over the past four decades

A child war refugee, Nichols immigrated with his family to the United States to escape the Nazis.  He worked his way through college at the University of Chicago, where he decided to become an actor.

Clay as Sir Robin

Clay as Sir Robin

Mr. Nichols is now 77 but has no plans to slow down.  Among the possible projects on his plate are movies based on the scripts of David Mamet and Tony Kushner.  He is also considering a theatrical revival of a Harold Pinter play.

Mike Nichols was the director of Spamalot at the Shubert Theater in New York.  He took a chance and cast Clay Aiken in the musical as the timid Sir Robin.  Mr. Nichols said of Clay;

Clay is amazing, beyond that glorious voice,” said director Mike Nichols. “Turns out he is an excellent comic actor and a master of character. People are going to be surprised by his wide-ranging talent, since the first impression is of great country charm and a singer to remember. This guy is not only a star; he is a lot more. We’re lucky to get him for ‘Spamalot’!”

Many words have been used to describe Mike Nichols; urbane, witty, exuberantly versatile, humane.  But above all, Mike Nichols has won the admiration and respect from people who care about theater, movies, laughter, and most important, life.

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10 thoughts on “Mike Nichols – Clay Aiken’s Broadway Mentor

  1. Mike Nicols has directed some of my favorite films. He’s so talented and seems to have a great eye for scripts. He also has a great eye for talent!

    Here’s hoping he’s successful in all his future plans.

  2. Musicfan,

    Another thorough, interesting blog entry! I especially love the Mike Nichols’ quote about Clay Aiken during the early “Spamalot” press releases.

    Have a great weekend!


  3. Mike Nichols is certainly an force in the entertainment industry…a genius. He knows talent and found it in Clay Aiken.

  4. Cann…thank you for sharing this….I really had no idea of all of Mike’s work…He truly is talented. Amazing.

    He seems to be so diversified in movie, theatre, and the whole entertainment industry… and I will be forever thankful that he gave (I know Clay earned his role) Clay his first shot at Broadway..to have that faith in him that he could pull it of……and Clay absolutely pulled it off…..Thank you Mike for seeing what we all see in Clay!!!!!

    I must go and see some of these movies… Thanks Cann for this informative blog.


  5. Mike Nichols is a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment business. He produced one of my favorite movies, “The Graduate.” He knows how to pick his people also. He picked a winner in Clay Aiken as he was spectacular as Sir Robin. I also like the very nice write-up he did on Clay. Thanks for this informative story.

  6. I knew Mike Nichols was extremely talented but I did not know he had won all those awards. I am so glad he recognized Clay’s talent and cast him in Spamalot. I hope they will work together in the future.

  7. When someone so succesful and respected in the entertainment business says such nice things about Clay, it makes my heart swell.

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