Mike Nichols left a rich legacy on the stage and screen—and the actors he collaborated with were left all the better after having worked with him.
Natalie Portman, who was a teenager when Nichols directed her onstage in a revival of Chekhov's The Seagull and then reteamed with him in 2004 for the film Closer, was one of many to pay tribute today after hearing that he had died suddenly last night at the age of 83.
"There's nothing good enough I can write that would do Mike justice," the actress said in a statement Thursday.
"He was the one who had the best words, the right hug for hard times, the funny comment to diffuse your pain," Portman continued. "He saved me again and again. He was the best way to be a person and an artist. And the most, most fun. I send my deepest love to Diane, Jenny, Max, Daisy and their children, who filled his days with light." (Nichols' widow, Diane Sawyer, was the filmmaker's fourth wife. They had been married since 1988.)
She scored her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Closer as an American stripper working in London who has all sorts of secrets.
Clive Owen was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Nichols won the Golden Globe for Best Director for his big-screen adapation of the Patrick Marber play.
In an interview at the time, Portman said that there was a lot of laughter on the Closer set, despite its disturbing and bleak look at relationships, "because Mike was there."
The director famously opted not to include a nude scene with Portman's character that was a part of the original stage version of the story. They filmed it, but the scene didn't make the final cut.
"Well, back to the trust issue: When you trust someone, you''re willing to do everything and make mistakes and really expose yourself inside-out," Portman said. "So we made sort of a pact that before...while we would shoot, we would just do everything. and then he cut it the way he cut, showed it to me [to] see if I agreed, and that's what happened. We both kept our parts of the deal."
And that respect ran both ways.
"It confuses people to think that someone so completely beautiful could be a first-rate actor, too," Nichols told The Guardian about Portman in 2007. 'It's hard to grasp, but it's happened. It's happened a few times before, with Garbo and Louise Brooks."