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From Meryl Streep to Cher, actors always delivered their best for Nichols

Shaun Harrison
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Whether on stage or on screens both big and small, Mike Nichols, who died Nov. 19 at 83, always got the best out of his performers with his remarkably realistic, imaginative style and comic eye. Here are some of those landmark performances the EGOT recipient directed in his prolific career.
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Art Carney and Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple (1965)

Nichols staged the original Broadway production of the Neil Simon play, with Carney as neat freak Felix and Matthau in what became his most famous role as slob Oscar. Matthau won a Tony, along with Simon and Nichols, who was also honored for his direction on Luv.
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The cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

A searing adaptation of Edward Albee's brittle portrait of a marriage, Woolf features arguably Richard Burton's and Elizabeth Taylor's finest performances ("What a dump!"), as one can't really tell where George and Martha's tempestuous relationship ends and their real-life one begins. George Segal and Sandy Dennis as the unwitting Nick and Honey caught in their gameplay expertly hold their own against the duo. All four received Oscar nominations (the film is one of 15 with acting nods in all four categories), with Taylor and Dennis winning; they remain the only two Oscar-winning performances Nichols directed.
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Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, The Graduate (1967)

Nichols' signature film made a star out of unknown 30-year-old Hoffman, who was selected to play the directionless college graduate Benjamin Braddock who gets seduced by the older Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft was only six years older than Hoffman) after his nervous audition. (Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were eyed for the role.) Hoffman parlayed those nerves into awkward angst, pitched perfectly against Bancroft's predatory brilliance. Both earned Oscar nominations, and Nichols won his only Best Director Oscar.
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Alan Arkin, Catch-22 (1970)

Nichols spent two years adapting Joseph Heller's classic war satire and the result was a frenetic black comedy, anchored by a wonderfully caustic performance from Arkin as Captain John Yossarian. The film was coincidentally released the film the same year as M*A*S*H, which earned more critical and public favor.
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Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Christine Baranski, The Real Thing (1984) Nichols brought Tom Stoppard's play about marriage and infidelity to the Great White Way, delivering Tony-winning performances from leads Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, and supporting actress Christine Baranski. Nichols also won for Best Direction.
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Meryl Streep, Cher and Kurt Russell, Silkwood (1983)

The solemn drama was a departure for the comic director and marked the first of numerous collaborations with Streep, who fueled the film as the titular character, real-life whistleblower Karen Silkwood. Russell as Karen's boyfriend and Cher, in her second film role as Karen's lesbian friend and coworker Dolly, are equally as harrowing. Streep, Cher and Nichols received Oscar nominations, while Cher also won a Golden Globe.
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Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, Heartburn (1986)

Based on Nora Ephron's divorce from Carl Bernstein after his affair (Ephron wrote the screenplay and the novel from which it's adapted), the rom-com takes a stormy look at a marriage coming undone. Nicholson is perfectly cast as the philandering cad, while Streep forces you to observe her pain.
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The cast of Working Girl (1988)

Melding satire and heart on Wall Street, Nichols made another star out of Melanie Griffth, who played blue-collar secretary Tess McGill with spunky aggression, all while delivering wonderful, fully drawn female characters in Joan Cusack's Cynthia and Sigourney Weaver's deliciously smug boss Katherine Parker. All three women received Oscar nominations and Nichols was up for Best Director.
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Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, Postcards from the Edge (1990) Written by Carrie Fisher and based on her novel of the same name — a semi-autobiographical tale of an actress recovering from addiction with a showbiz mom — the film features a tragicomic fragile turn from Streep as actress Suzanne Vale opposite MacLaine's bold, manipulative stage mom Doris. Both actresses received Golden Globe nominations, with Streep also earning an Oscar nod.
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The cast of The Birdcage (1996)

Based on La Cage aux Folles and written by Nichols' former comedy partner Elaine May, the gut-busting comedy starred Robin Williams a Armand, a gay night club owner who, along with his partner Albert (Nathan Lane), is forced to play straight to meet his son's fiancee's conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest). The cast's effortlessly hilarious chemistry won them the second-ever Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Film Ensemble.
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The cast of Primary Colors (1998)

Also written by Elaine May, the political satire featured a stellar cast, including Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney and Larry Hagman, headlined by John Travolta as a Clinton-like presidential candidate. Kathy Bates, as his terrifically unstable chief of staff Libby Holden, received an Oscar nomination.
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Emma Thompson, Wit (2001)

Long before it was all the rage for movie big names to come to TV, Nichols directed a heartbreaking Thompson, as cancer-stricken professor Vivian Bearing, in his HBO adaptation of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning play. Nichols won an Emmy, while Thompson was nominated.
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The cast of Angels in America (2003)

Nichols' awe-inspiring HBO miniseries adaptation of Tony Kusher's Pulitzer-winning play about the AIDS epidemic was stacked with powerhouse performances from Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Mary-Louise Parker, Emma Thompson and Justin Kirk. The project swept the Emmys, with wins for Nichols, Pacino, Streep, Parker and Wright, along with the Outstanding Miniseries prize.
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The cast of Closer (2004)

Nichols' sexually charged adaptation of Patrick Marber's play about two destructive couples is underscored by dark turns from Jude Law, Julia Roberts (playing against type), Clive Owen and Natalie Portman in an assured, mature performance. Owen and Portman both won Golden Globes and were Oscar-nominated.
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The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot (2005)

Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce and Tim Curry headlined Nichols' dazzling adaptation, which won him his first directing Tony for a musical, but Sara Ramirez was the major discovery and won her own Tony as the Lady of the Lake. ABC executives were so charmed by her performance that they offered her a role on any of their shows. She chose Grey's Anatomy and the rest is history.
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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Nichols' final theatrical film was fittingly a subversive satire, this time about former Congressman Charlie Wilson. Tom Hanks played Wilson, but Hoffman, who earned an Oscar nomination, stole the show with his rollicking turn as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, peaking with one of the f---in' greatest monologues of all time.
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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, Death of a Salesman (2012) Nichols won his final Tony, directing Hoffman and Garfield as the iconic Willy Loman and Biff, in the Broadway revival of the Arthur Miller classic. Hoffman, who was 18 years younger than Loman's 62, made the age gap seem negligible, while Garfield reminded us that he's more than just Spider-Man; both earned Tony nominations.