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Why Mike Nichols got the gig to direct 'The Graduate'

Mike Nichols, Academy Award-winning director of
Mike Nichols, Academy Award-winning director of "The Graduate," far right, speaks with, from left, Lawrence Turman, the film's producer, and Katherine Ross and Brian Avery, both actors in the film, before a screening of "The Graduate" in 2005.
Rene Macura/AP

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With the news of Mike Nichols' death, we spoke with producer Lawrence Turman about their collaboration on "The Graduate." 

Turman would go on to produce many films — including "American History X" — and to chair the Peter Stark Producing program at USC.

Nichols would go on to direct landmark feature films, TV movies and Broadway plays. But back when Turman first reached out to Nichols, they were still at the start of their careers. Nichols hadn't even yet directed "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff" — his feature film debut. 

Why Turman wanted Mike Nichols to direct "The Graduate"

If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink," it was that kind of decision — meaning when I offered "The Graduate" to Mike Nichols, he had never done a movie. And had only done a single Broadway play, "Barefoot in the Park," which I saw as just oozing smart, sensitive, funny direction. At the same time, I'd been a fan of Nichols' and [Elaine] May's stand-up comedy show. And I felt it was just an intuitive marriage — funny but mordant with an edge because that's the novel, "The Graduate," which I had optioned with my own money. It just seemed a hand-in-glove fit: that book with Mike Nichols.

On the attributes Nichols brought to the film

He's smart. He's funny. He's pinpointed. He has great people skills. Whether he's talking to a reporter from Afghanistan or to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor or a seeming neophyte Dustin Hoffman, he seems to have intuitively the key to whatever it is that unlocks that person's security and confidence.

How Turman and Nichols worked together on "The Graduate"

Mike had an unusual, what I think, quite wonderful quality. I would suggest something to Mike and he would turn to me and say, "Turman, that's the absolutely dumbest idea I ever heard in my life!" That's during the day.

That night, at home, I'd get a phone call from him. He wouldn't even say "Hello." He would say, "You know I've been thinking...." and we would launch into a very productive discussion [and] sometimes it would end with him liking my suggestion. Other times no. We were both smart and lucky in that movie.




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