Mike Nichols

"Wit" - Edinburgh International Film Festival 2001

Interviewed by James Mottram

"Wit" is a very difficult film to watch...

It's a tough experience. I like to think that there is something free about it, like really looking at death. I had a very dear friend die of cancer last year, he was thirty nine years old. He and his wife asked the doctor how long he had to live, and the doctor said "Ugh, I hate it when people ask me that! ". Then I watched him die, which I thought would be the most terrible thing. I loved this man so much, but five seconds after he died it was like looking at an empty apartment. He just wasn't there anymore. I knew he was OK. We weren't but he was.

It's ironic that a poetry professor who dealt with death all her life in a very abstract way must now face it for real...

I think it's one of the central tenets of the piece, as it was written. We're all experts, and we all know nothing. We haven't dealt with those things, except very unusual, spiritual people, who have. If you lose a parent, it never goes away. As a kid, I dreamed about my father coming back for 15 or 20 years. I still do sometimes. You feel cheated, you want him back.

How did this start initially as a made-for-TV film?

The TV company approached Emma Thompson and I thought "How great! I'd love to make a movie for TV". They have 30 million viewers. Nobody's worried about the first weekend. That's all making movies is now. You think it's not on your back, but it is! You think you can ignore the studios, but if you spend three hours with a studio head explaining that now Lady Macbeth cannot be a role model for young women, and she must be greedy, you return to your office, and you're three degrees off what you were really thinking about. It makes a difference. The pressure is greater and greater.

Did you feel that pressure with a high-profile movie like "Primary Colors"?

I didn't feel it while we were making it because I liked it so much, and I thought we were doing so well. Everybody said "This is such a good movie, it's so true." But nobody went to see it. That's serious, more serious than if I'd made a bad movie.

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