If it’s true that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, Mike Nichols must be a whale of a guy.
The gala to present the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award to the director on Thursday evening was so star-studded, it could have vied with the Oscars for sheer wattage. As the director of such films as “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Carnal Knowledge” and “Silkwood” looked on with his wife, Diane Sawyer, a steady parade of Hollywood A-listers — several of whom were AFI Life Achievement Award-winners or had seen their careers launched by his films — stood up to make warm and often hilarious remarks: Dustin Hoffman, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Elaine May, AFI Board of Trustees Chairman Howard Stringer, Calista Flockhart, Candice Bergen, Shirley MacLaine, Natalie Portman, Cher, Nora Ephron, Aaron Sorkin, Kevin Spacey, Robin Williams and Emma Thompson.
And that didn't even include Eric Idle performing a song from the Nichols-directed Broadway hit “Spamalot” — while wearing wings that referenced Nichols’ HBO work “Angels in America” — or such distinguished audience members as Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Tim Curry and Wallace Shawn.
As last year's AFI honoree, Michael Douglas, quipped, “Where the hell were all of you last year?”
But the ambiance at the Sony Pictures Studios soundstage, where Judy Garland once walked down the Yellow Brick Road, had a couple of differences from the Academy Awards: The tribute for the 78-year-old was more intimate and, as Helen Mirren said while waiting for her car after the festivities, “there was lots of love in the room.”