OK, his professional life.
It was Feb. 2, 2012, and Forrest, a radio personality on New York’s WQXR, had arranged a live, on-stage interview with the stars of the soon-to-open Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman” at the station’s Greene Space in Lower Manhattan. The interview was to start with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s drama, followed by Linda Emond, as Willy’s wife, and Andrew Garfield of “Spider-Man” movie fame, as Willy’s son, Biff.
Joining them, at some point, would be Mike Nichols, the play’s director.
It soon became clear that the 20 minutes alotted to Hoffman would be too much, as the mercurial actor — who died of a drug overdose in February — was not interested in being interviewed.
“He just didn’t want to talk about his play or his process or his work or acting,” Forrest said, still incredulous two years later. “I wasn’t getting anywhere. The plan was to have me do 20 minutes with the Hoffman and then bring in the cast. But 10 minutes in, it was like ‘He just doesn’t want to be here.’”
Nichols is what the industry calls an EGOT — winner of multiple Emmys (“Angels in America” and “Wit”), a Grammy (“An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May”), an Oscar (“The Graduate”) and many Tonys (“Barefoot in the Park,” “Luv,” “The Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite,” “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” “The Real Thing,” and “Death of a Salesman.” On Feb. 2, 2012, Nichols was a savior.
“At one point, I turned to Linda Emond to ask her about the play and she literally put her hands over her ears and said ‘La, la, la, la, la,’ like she wasn’t listening,” Forrest said with a laugh, although at the time he was in no laughing mood. “Nobody was willing to play ball.”
“Nichols completely saved the night, telling stories and talking about the actors’ process,” Forrest recalled. “He and I started talking about how nobody wanted to talk about the process and he told me, basically, ‘You’re trying to ask a couple on their honeymoon, what’s it like to have sex for the first time?’”
But Nichols knew something that the actors failed to acknowledge, Forrest said.
“He knew we were doing a show and he knows what it takes to save a show and being completely comfortable on stage. There was no doubt he was going to save the show, so by the end, it evolved into just the two of us. The three of them were on stage, but it was just me and Mike Nichols doing the talking.
“My favorite part of the interview came when I was looking down at my notes and thinking ‘Where am I going to go?’ when Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed to read my thought bubble and ad-libbed to the audience, ‘Can’t ask that … Can’t ask that … Can’t ask that.’ And everybody burst into laughter.”
Forrest had interviewed Nichols before. In March 2009, Nichols, a sometimes Snedens Landing resident, came to Nyack’s Riverspace for a 90-minute retrospective before a sold-out house. Nichols brought along his wife, ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer, upping the ante for interviewer Forrest, who nonetheless found himself being put at ease by the director’s charm.
“He was such a diverse talent, comfortable in comedy and drama, in film and on Broadway,” Forrest said. “The idea that he would start in standup and be great at it, and really get the nuances in his comedy of the foibles of people and take that kind of comedy that he did with Elaine May and turn that into ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ and very quickly be asked to direct ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’. It’s amazing to think that that was his first movie. And ‘The Graduate’ and the list goes on and on.”
On Thursday, Forrest remembered the director’s ease.
“The thing that struck me, sharing the stage with him, was that he was a raconteur,” Forrest said. “He was the director, taking over the stage, but that comedy background allowed him to be a really great interview and be very comfortable on stage talking about his life and career.”
Photo by Myles Aronowitz: Mike Nichols chats with Elliott Forrest at a soldout Riverspace in Nyack in March 2009. This 90-minute interview went considerably smoother than the 2012 Greene Space conversation, when Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield weren’t playing, and Nichols rode to Forrest’s rescue.