When Mike Nichols bought the film rights to my novel Primary Colors, he said that what he liked most about the story was “there are no villains in it.” That was the way I saw it, too — a satiric look at a larger than life politician in the midst of the 1992 presidential campaign. Mike didn’t know that I had written it — I was still anonymous — and I’d never met him, but I felt safe. He wouldn’t turn the satire into burlesque. He would treat the characters with respect.
The project turned out to be something of a disappointment for him. A good part of the book’s sexiness was wrapped in the mystery of the author’s identity, and when I was outed, the mystery was solved. But Mike gave it all the charm and intelligence he could muster, which was limitless. One day on the set, he and Emma Thompson — another class act — started talking about how various stage actors apply their talents to the art of the bow. Within minutes, they were demonstrating. They took turns, hilariously, tiptoeing and dashing onto the stage, bold and shy, tearful and arrogant and brilliant. You love me? I’m so flattered. Amazed. Shocked. Well, of course, you love me. You damn well better love me, after what I just did for you. (I’m touched that you love me, anyway.)
Mike’s world was like that. The observations were always acute, the intelligence was there to delight, not to dominate. He was relentlessly gracious, clever and generous. There was no pretense or edge to him. We took several long plane trips together, with our wives. He was incredibly generous, bringing us along for the ride when Primary Colors was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival. The conversation was as good as it gets, not just showbiz stories, but serious ramblings about books and theater and psychology, and the inherent awkwardness of journalism. And wordplay, sly and delectable, always. There was a benign magic to his presence; even when the plane landed, our feet hardly touched the ground.