Working Girl may have been comparatively cold-shouldered at the Oscars last week. but this engaging Cinderella story has made a clean sweep amongst the voters who matter most: the cinemagoing public.
The unabashed contemporary fairytale tellsofan ambitious secretary who has the brains but lacks the social pedigree to succeed in the corporate jungle of Wall Street. It has grossed in excess of $50 million and. in the process. magically transformed Melanie Griffith into a leading lady. allowed Sigourney Weaver a rare opportunity to play comedy and permitted Harrison Ford to pretend that he is both Prince Charming and Cary Grant.
The good fairy responsible for making these dreams ring true is Mike Nichols. one of Hollywood and Broadway‘s most consistently accomplished directors whose mantlepiece must groan under the weight ofan Oscar. an Emmy. seven Tonys and sundry other awards too numerous to mention.
Nichols first came to public notice in the 19505 as part of a savagely satirical cabaret team with Elaine May. In the 1960s. he stormed Broadway to become the prime interpreter ofNeil Simon‘s work. His first film in 1966 was the excoriating emotional drama of Edward Albee‘s Who '3 Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and his second film. The Graduate has become a seminal Sixties‘ view of American mores. The man‘s impeccable track record speaks eloquently on its own behalf.
Working Girl attracted his attention for the most basic of reasons; it was a good story in which he felt audiences could enjoyably empathise with the aspirations and vitality of9 to 5erTess McGill.
‘We all like people who have to struggle a bit. and that‘s the main thing about Tess — she struggles. There‘s a very powerful. completely invisible barrier that she has to break: the barrier ofclass. Tess has high intelligence and great ability for the job she wants to do. but she doesn‘t have the sort of marks of class that are required of the person who gets this kind ofwork. She doesn‘t talk right. she doesn‘t look right. and in the upper reaches of Wall Street and industry. that‘s a huge drawback. Eighty per cent of the battle is style. And Tess literally has to masquerade in order to demonstrate her ability and free herself.‘
Casting Working Girl appears to have presented few difficulties for Nichols. although the studio initially baulked at his choice of Griffith for the leading role. Given his past perceptiveness with Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Stockard Charming in The Fortune and Cher in Silk wood. they eventually bowed to his superior wisdom.
‘I really felt that we needed her. Melanie is so specifically a working person. She had a combination of sexiness and intelligence and since the character‘s actions were not
always completely admirable. I needed somebody who would engage our sympathy. I just have to
Mike Nichba (on left) on so! 0
\ g -’-. . (g \I .. Working GI and b' m. Malanle Grimm
Award-winning director Mike Nichols doesn’t aspire to another Oscar. As Working Girls opens, Allan Hunter discovers what drives the man who has won them all.
cast the people that fit the story.‘
Working Girl has been part ofa recent burst ofcinema activity on Nichols‘ behalfthat also encompasses Heartburn and last year‘s Biloxi Blues. Having concentrated on the stage for a number ofyears. and despite a recent success with the Robin Williams-Steve Martin Waiting/or Godot. he now feels profoundly disillusioned with the Broadway scene.
"The theatre audience in my country are a bit like customers in a whorehouse: they have been cheated and lied to for so long that they‘re
not very alive. They‘ve been charged $50 for either a concrete. seven year-old version of an English musical or tired. knee-jerk plays. For the first 15 minutes after the curtain goes up they read the playbill and then they look around confused. trying to catch up with what‘s going on and then they usually go to sleep. Let it die and what will come next time will be good and interesting. It only takes one or two more David Mamets to bring it back to something more vital. But. right now. I find just personally more life. more fun in making and. God knows. in seeing movies.‘
In August. Nichols will begin filming Hollywood and Vine. Written by actress Carrie Fisher. daughter of Debbie (.S‘ingin' in the Rain) Reynolds. it tells of a mother-daughter relationship between two actresses. one ofwhom is an alcoholic and the other drug-addicted. Meryl Streep and Shirley Macl-aine will star and if it all sounds distinctly autobiographical. serious and Oscar-bound. then Nichols promises different.
‘We are always asking each other. do you prefer comedy or drama'.’ But in truth. if you‘ve only got one of them then you‘re in trouble. If it‘s all comedy then it‘s probably too frivolous and if there are no laughs then you are probably in Germany.‘
Whilst still clearly acid-tongued. the man responsible for the wartime nostalgia of Biloxi Blues. and the blue collar wish fulfillment of Working Girl seems an altogether mellower figure than the director of the iconoclastic ('ateh 22 and the sexually frank (‘arnul Knowledge.
‘1 think I‘m less angry. less vengeful than when I started out. Still somewhat. but less. I‘m actually happy now which changes a lot. I like what I do and I like my life. It seems to me that it‘s necessary to be positive because it‘s the only way to move forward. even if it doesn't appear to you to be possible. The kind of post-adolescent bleakncss that really depends for its black outlook on the expectation of living sixty or seventy more years is hard to maintain as the time is getting shorter.‘
It is the power of positive thinking that allows Nichols to be lightly philosophical about the whole Oscar circus in which Working Girl‘s six nominations were awarded with a solitary win for (‘arly Simon‘s Best Song.
‘It‘s such a strange mixture of popularity contest and who was most recently ill; you never know what factors are going to enter any particular decision. You protect yourself by saying it‘s not such a big deal. it‘s an honour just to be nominated and. in a weird way. that‘s actually true. It means the people who do the same job as you think you did a good job this year. and that‘s nice. If you win the Academy Award you‘re back at the Beverly Hills Hotel by 10. 15pm feeling empty. If you lose you say “what do I care'.’ I‘ve got my little woman. I‘ve got my kiddies. We have a wonderful life . . (‘hoose between them. I‘m always confused by people who go nuts as if some major thing has happened. Some people even go nuts at the Golden Globes as if they have been anointed Pope when what‘s actually happened is 80 stringers from Hungary and Serbo-(‘roatia have voted for their favourites in the movies. I think it‘s important to keep these things in perspective. The Academy Award is a very nice thing to have but you have not been touched by the hand
Working (iirl opens across Scotland on April 14. See ( ‘inerna Listings for details.
12 The List 7 — 20 April 1989