Natalie Portman describes Closer director Mike Nichols as a ‘genuine feminist'
Natalie Portman describes Closer director Mike Nichols as a ‘genuine feminist'
Columbia Pictures

Natalie Portman has said the "only older man" to have mentored her "without there being a creepy element in it" was late director Mike Nichols.

“I think he was a genuine feminist,” Portman says in Mark Harris's new biography, Mike Nichols, A Life – which charts the much-lauded auteur's journey from a young Jew in Nazi Germany to Academy Award-winning director of films like The Graduate and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

“There was nothing, nothing, nothing there except him seeing you as a creative, interesting, talented human. It is the rarest, finest quality, and not many directors of his generation had it.”

Portman worked twice with the director, including in his penultimate film Closer in 2004, a romantic drama centred around two couples' overlapping relationships, in which she gave an Oscar-nominated turn as stripper Alice Redford.

Harris writes: “With Portman, Nichols was careful and protective, particularly in the strip club sequence, for which, at her request, he was happy to eliminate some of the nudity ... He made sure she was comfortable with the angles, the costumes, and the movement, and walked her through the scene until she felt ready."

Portman is quoted in the book as saying: "What he did for me … Lord, may I have that ability to offer that kind of mentorship and guidance to one other person."

The Star Wars and Black Swan star describes first receiving Nichols' guidance while appearing in his 2001 production of Anton Chekov's The Seagull, at the New York Public Theatre, alongside Meryl Streep and Phil Hoffman.

“I was 19, and I hadn’t done anything I had needed to research except for Anne Frank," Portman said.

"I’d watch Phil [Hoffman] write down question after question in his notebook, and Meryl [Streep] would make up songs to sing and put them in her pocket just in case her character suddenly wanted to burst into song.”

Portman's comments prompted an outpouring of appreciation for Nichols, who died in 2014, but many lamented that the bar for men of his status generally appeared to be set pretty low.

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