cover image Mike Nichols: A Life

Mike Nichols: A Life

Mark Harris. Penguin Press, $35 (688p) ISBN 978-0-399-56224-2

Harris (Five Came Back) delivers an entertaining portrait of actor, director, and producer Mike Nichols in this bracingly candid biography. Drawing primarily on interviews conducted by himself and others, Harris captures the award-winner’s “precision and finesse” during his “five-decade career in movies and theater,” which included directing the 1967 film The Graduate and the 1984 play The Real Thing. Nichols’s first major success came in 1960 with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, a comedy act that “more than doubled its investors’ money”; his fame continued as he released his first feature film in 1966, an adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Though Nichols’s work style—he “wasn’t shy about using his personal experience to motivate his actors”—is front and center, Harris empathetically digs into his subject’s private life: never far below the surface was the self-aware young Jewish immigrant from Germany who became a master of self-presentation and invention (Nichols took “great care never to look or sound too excited about anything”). Harris also doesn’t gloss over Nichols’s demons, including his drug use, demand for perfection, and “irritability and condescension” on set. The result is a joyously readable and balanced account of a complex man. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Feb.)