Culture

Meryl Streep and Mike Nichols: A Beautiful Friendship After All These Years

Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep © ShutterStock
Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep © ShutterStock

“You’re only as good as the company you keep.” The all too famous saying can describe the working relationships between directors and actors. One such director who always keeps good company is Mike Nichols. Nichols has been directing films since 1966. Prior to looking through the camera lens, he was one half of Nichols & May, an improvisational comedy duo he formed along with Elaine May. He also took a turn as an acting coach, and saw success directing for the theater. Known for his minimalist style and insightful character studies, both in drama and comedy, he is one of twelve people to have been awarded an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (or, an EGOT).

Meryl Streep, a graduate of Vassar and the Yale School of Drama, is the most Oscar-nominated actress, with seventeen nominations and three wins under her belt. In her wildly celebrated career, she’s been praised for, among other things, her ability to master accents and occasionally indulge viewers in song (at twelve, she was already training to become an opera singer). She’s worked with some of the greatest names in Hollywood. Knowing that Meryl Streep would be good company on and off screen, Mike Nichols began a working relationship -- as well as a friendship -- with the legendary actress in 1983 for the film “Silkwood.”

"Silkwood" is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear power plant in Oklahoma. After being exposed to unhealthy amounts of radiation, Silkwood took it upon herself to look into the plant’s safety measures. Though this caused an uproar in the plant and in her community, it did not deter her. Tragically, though, she died in a car accident on her way to a meeting with a New York Times reporter. Nichols’ signature style complimented the blue-collar Oklahoma set perfectly. Streep’s performance captured the light, carefree spirit Silkwood was known for, but also nailed her strong will and feisty integrity. Though the audience anticipates Silkwood’s tragic end, the film’s message resonates without feeling forced or hokey, a credit to both Nichols' sharp directorial eye and Streep’s flawless acting chops. The film earned both Streep and Nichols Oscar nominations.

Their next collaboration was three years later, on the criminally underrated movie “Heartburn.” Based on Nora Ephron’s best-selling novel, the work is a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Ephron's second marriage. Streep’s comedic and dramatic talents are on full display as Rachel Samstadt, a food writer who finds out her husband, Mark (Jack Nicholson), is “cheating on her, with someone very tall.” Though the film was not well-received among critics (it was deemed “too bitter” and, worse, “disappointing”), Nichols' direction of both the banal and hectic aspects of married life play wonderfully. Streep’s performance is lovable and stubborn, blissful and frantic.

In 1990, the two tackled yet another thinly veiled true-life story in Carrie Fisher’s “Postcards From the Edge,” a semi-autobiographical account of Fisher's drug and alcohol abuse, and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Streep stars as the troubled Suzanne Vale, an actress who overdoses and finds herself in a rehabilitation center. The movie fared better among critics than “Heartburn” did, with The New York Times’ Vincent Canby stating, “Miss Fisher's tale of oddball woe being perfect material for Mr. Nichols's particular ability to discover the humane sensibility within the absurd.” Streep was nominated for the role, her first in a comedy and last in a five-year span before “The Bridges of Madison County,” her longest run without a nomination.

Streep and Nichols' most recent pairing was the highly acclaimed 2004 HBO miniseries “Angels in America,” which was penned by Tony Kushner and co-starred Patrick Stewart, Emma Thompson, and Al Pacino, among others. The miniseries garnered a DGA Award for Nichols; five Golden Globes, including Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television and Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Streep's performance; and eleven Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, again, for Streep's performance. The 2004 awards season proved once again that you are, indeed, as good as the company you keep.

Considering their work together, if a biopic of the two’s collaborative efforts were made, who do you think would tackle their roles? Let us know in the comment section below.

  • fyeahmikenichols

    Great post. I guess Gene Hackman could play Mike?

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