WORKING WITH NICHOLS
The four principals in Closer enjoyed the rare luxury of four-week rehearsal period prior to the commencement of principal photography, enabling the actors and director Mike Nichols to really discover these characters and identify them as people in all their different dimensions.
Nichols always rehearses his movies, but in a completely different way from how he rehearses a stage play. The process for movies takes into account the fact that the shooting of films is almost always in bits and pieces and out of sequence. "So the rehearsal process is to decide together what story we are telling," he says. "The more interior a story, the more mysterious, the more necessary it is to figure out what happens next."
In the case of Closer, that entailed figuring out what happens in the periods of time that the story skips, large gaps of a year or more between scenes. Another reason Nichols rehearses films is because it enables him to bring the actors together, "so they can explore how they're going to be with one another, how they really feel about one another. The better the actors are -- like the four actors I had for Closer -- the better they are at turning what happens between them into the relationships in the film."
Portman, who had previously worked with Nichols on a stage production of Chekov's "The Seagull," says the director's rehearsal approach was different when they were preparing for Closer. "On stage it was much more about the process of rehearsals," she says. "Mike just sat back and let everything grow. For the film he took a much more hands-on approach, with suggestions and leading conversations into certain areas. It was like being in a really interesting English class, analyzing the play during rehearsals, bringing in other literary references."
Law, who says he sometimes enjoys the discoveries that take place during rehearsals more than the actual shooting of the film, found Nichols' approach to the process unique. "He works like no one else. The wonderful thing is simply to be in his presence, hear his stories, his wonderful references. It's a very subtle approach. Slowly, you become aware that through just conversing, he is steering you, almost subconsciously, in the direction he wants to take you. It brings out of you this sense of confidence, that you're the only person for the job so you should never question or doubt yourself."
The sense of optimism Nichols conveys, had a significant impact on Roberts, she says. "He's just so clear and enthusiastic. He's the best cheerleader you could ever want. He's so encouraging. It's just incredible. It really does stir up a lot of emotions and it stirs up a lot of conversation and a lot of thoughts. Mike is really profoundly astute at taking these dramatic scenarios that hold hostility and vulgarity and all this really kind of repellant stuff, and he can somehow, in the course of a story or just through his explanation, make it very much something that every person has done or said or experienced."
"We spent a lot of time talking about the bigger themes of the piece," says Owen, "how people behave under pressure, how they behave when they're in love, how they behave when they've been wronged. This has a way of seeping into your consciousness and coming back later when you start the actual filming."
Nichols rehearsal approach bore fruit during production, observes Owen. "Mike is so smart and the one thing you realize is that if a director is very smart, everything else falls into place," he says. "During shooting he does very few takes, which I think has to do with maintaining the freshness of it all, keeping it alive. When you do a number of takes, even though you can refine things, to a certain extent you start locking everything off. You can lose the spirit and life of a scene. But Mike keeps the air in it. There's also an odd pressure when you know you're only going to get a couple of shots at any given scene. It adds this wonderful sort of adrenaline."
DRESSING UP AND DRESSING DOWN IN LONDON
An additional element in Closer is its take on contemporary London and how the four central characters behave in that milieu. "London is such a fascinating, multifaceted city that there's always something new to explore in a filmic sense and we've done that with Closer," says producer Brokaw. "It shows a real contemporary London, not the romanticized city people of think of, but rather the city people who live here know in all its different colors and textures."
Mike Nichols sought out award-winning theatrical production designer Tim Hatley to design Closer. Despite the fact that Hatley was relatively new to film design Nichols was so impressed with his theatrical work on recent productions of "Private Lives" and "The Crucible" that he had no qualms about bringing him aboard.
Hatley in turn hired Mark Raggett to be his Supervising Art Director, an artist with a long, impressive film resume behind him. Hatley read the play 15 times before he began to plan his design scheme and found "the answer to all my questions about the characters was right there in the text."
The look and feel of the film is the heart of present-day London. "The heart of the story is about four people in London, not the touristy, picture postcard city, but a London for real people like these people," says Hatley.
Hatley, Raggett and Set Decorator John Bush noted that every scene in Closer is rife with tension and the sets should reflect the intensity of the dialogue and the interactions. "The characters' relationships are quite claustrophobic," says Raggett, "The sets we created and the locations we used all reinforce that feeling."
For Dan, a poor journalist and unsuccessful novelist, Hatley designed a worn, cramped London flat, which is situated near a market with bookshops and a café.
Anna's photo studio is also her home, and it changes as the story progresses. The loft-style apartment is rundown at the start of the film, but as Anna becomes more successful, it is transformed -- from an eclectic, bohemian photo studio into an elegant workspace and home.
Both Hatley and Raggett say their biggest challenge was creating the lap dance club. Hatley conferred with Nichols, who didn't want a typically seedy strip joint, but something a little more upscale. He and Raggett researched several London gentlemen's clubs, and took their cue from The Reform Club with its heavy, detailed moldings, building it from scratch. "Tim created this surreal environment with a staircase of mirrors and translucent walls," says Raggett. "It perfectly captures the reflective mood of the scene."
Hatley also conferred with veteran costume designer Ann Roth, with whom Nichols has collaborated since the Broadway smash hit "The Odd Couple" in the 1960s. Traveling from London to New York with huge metal trunks stuffed with models, photographs and sketches, Hatley "laid out the models during the first script read-through, and Ann and I compared colors. It was amazing to work with such an extraordinary seasoned talent."
Following her last, rather detailed, costuming job on Nichols' six-hour production of "Angels in America" for HBO, Roth saw this project as a relatively simple four- character piece. "The most interesting character was Dan, played by Jude Law. He was so poor and his clothes were very ratty, dreary and cheap," says Roth. "They looked it. Yet, at the same time, Dan is a very sexy man, so that was part of the challenge of dressing him."
Roth understood that, as a journalist, Dan usually had to appear in a shirt, tie and suit -- though the clothing had to be inexpensive. "The job was to make him look good in a rotten suit and somehow we did that, fitting him in a mid '60s look."
For Portman's character Alice, Roth imagined her as a backpacker who traveled and lived out of a sack. "Alice is a free spirit who can just pick up and go. She just needed a pair of pants and a couple of t-shirts," says Roth.
Anna and Larry were more affluent, but reflecting their generation, still tend to dress down more often than not, according to Roth, and her wardrobe choices reflect that lifestyle choice
MEET THE DIRECTOR AND THE PLAYWRIGHT
MIKE NICHOLS (Director, Producer) is a legend in the entertainment industry, honored for his contributions to both stage and screen, in front of and behind the camera. He was recently honored by the Directors Guild of America with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to the film medium over the past four decades. In September he received a Best Director Emmy for the HBO production "Angels in America," which won a record 11 Emmys.
Nichols was born in Berlin, Germany in 1931 to a Russian father and German mother. His family immigrated to the United States when he was seven and he was brought up in New York City. He attended the University of Chicago where, together with Elaine May and Paul Sills, he founded the comedy group The Compass, later renamed Second City.
In 1957, the now legendary team of Nichols and May was formed. Starting at the Blue Angel in New York, they performed in nightclubs all over the country. Nichols and May created numerous television specials and appeared as guests on "Omnibus," "The Dinah Shore Show" and "The Jack Paar Show." In 1960, they brought "An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May" to Broadway, where it ran for a year. The show was still selling out when the team decided to end the run and pursue separate careers.
Nichols turned to directing, winning the first of seven Tony Awards for Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park." He went on to helm an unprecedented string of Broadway hits including "The Knack," "Luv" (Best Director Tony), "The Odd Couple" (Best Director Tony), "The Apple Tree," "Plaza Suite" (Best Director Tony), "Prisoner of Second Avenue" (Best Director Tony), "The Gin Game" (1978 Pulitzer Prize) and "Streamers" (New York Drama Critics Award). He directed successful revivals of "The Little Foxes" and "Uncle Vanya" and the U.S. productions of "Comedians," as well as "The Real Thing" (Best Director Tony), "Hurlyburly," "Social Security," "Waiting for Godot" and "Death and the Maiden."
As a theatrical producer, he presented "Whoopi Goldberg on Broadway" and won the Tony for his blockbuster show "Annie." In 1987, Nichols received the George Abbott Award and in 1990 was honored by the American Museum of the Moving Image for his contribution to the film industry.
Nichols directed his first film, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in 1966, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Director, and for which Elizabeth Taylor won a Best Actress Academy Award.® In 1967, he directed The Graduate, for which he won the Academy Award® for Best Director, the Directors Guild Award and the New York Film Critics Award. His subsequent films include Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood (Best Director Academy Award® nomination), Working Girl (Best Director Academy Award® nomination), Biloxi Blues, Postcards from the Edge, Regarding Henry and Wolf. He shared a nomination for Best Picture for James Ivory's The Remains of the Day, on which he served as producer.
In recent years, he has reunited with former performance collaborator Elaine May who wrote the screenplays for Nichols' The Birdcage and Primary Colors.
Nichols directed Emma Thompson in the HBO Films production of "Wit," which won him the 2001 Emmy Award® for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, as well as the Emmy® for Outstanding Made for Television Movie. Nichols and Thompson also received the 2001 Humanitas Award for Best Screenplay for "Wit."
His most recent triumph was the HBO two-part presentation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic "Angels in America," with Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson leading an ensemble cast, which won him a DGA Award for his directing and received 21 Emmy nominations (winning 11 including one for Nichols as Best Director). The production also received five Golden Globe awards.
Nichols will next direct a musical stage version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail entitled "Spamalot."
PATRICK MARBER (Screenplay by/Based on the Play) was born in London in 1964. He began his career as a stand-up comedian, then began writing and appearing in the British radio and television show "Knowing Me, Knowing You".
His first play, "Dealer's Choice," debuted at London's Royal National Theatre in 1995, before transferring to the West End.
Marber's second play, "Closer," opened in London in 1997 and quickly became an international hit, produced in more than 100 cities and over 30 different languages across the world.
In addition to directing his own plays, Marber has directed productions of Craig Raine's "1953," Dennis Potter's "Blue Remembered Hills," David Mamet's "The Old Neighborhood" and Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker."
In 2000, he acted in the West End revival of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow."
He has won numerous awards for his radio, television and theatrical writing, including a BAFTA for Best Comedy Program and a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play for "Closer," which also garnered the London Critics' Circle Award for Best New Play and the New York Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.
Closer is Marber's first produced screenplay.