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Working With Nichols
The four principals on Closer enjoyed the rare luxury of having an extended rehearsal period of four weeks prior to the commencement of principal photography, enabling the actors and Mike to really discover these characters and identify them as people in all their different dimensions. 

Nichols always rehearses his movies, but in a completely different way from how he rehearses a stage play. The process for movies takes into account the fact that the shooting of films is almost always in bits and pieces and out of sequence. "So the rehearsal process is to decide together what story we are telling,” he says. "The more interior a story, the more mysterious, the more necessary it is to figure out what happens next.”

In the case of Closer, that entailed figuring out what happens in the periods of time that the story skips, large gaps of a year or more between scenes. Another reason Nichols rehearses films is because it enables him to bring the actors together, "so they can explore how they're going to be with one another, how they really feel about one another. The better the actors are — like the four actors I had for Closer — the better they are at turning what happens between them into the relationships in the film.”

Portman, who had previously worked with Nichols on a stage production of Chekov's "The Seagull,” says the director's rehearsal approach was different when they were preparing for Closer. "On stage it was much more about the process of rehearsals,” she says. "Mike just sat back and let everything grow. For the film he took a much more hands-on approach, with suggestions and leading conversations into certain areas. It was like being in a really interesting English class, analyzing the play during rehearsals, bringing in other literary references.”

Law, who says he sometimes enjoys the discoveries that take place during rehearsals more than the actual shooting of the film, found Nichols' approach to the process unique. "He works like no one else. The wonderful thing is simply to be in his presence, hear his stories, his wonderful references. It's a very subtle approach. Slowly, you become aware that through just conversing, he is steering you, almost subconsciously, in the direction he wants to take you. It brings out of you this sense of confidence, that you're the only person for the job so you should never question or doubt yourself.”

The sense of optimism Nichols conveys, had a significant impact on Roberts, she says. "He's just so clear and enthusiastic. He's the best cheerleader you could ever want. He's so encouraging. It's just incredible. It really does stir up a lot of emotions and it stirs up a lot of conversation and a lot of thoughts. Mike is really profoundly astute at taking these dramatic scenarios that hold hostility and vulgarity and all this really kind of repellant stuff, and he can somehow, in the course of a story or just through his explanation, make it very much something that every person has done or said or experienced.” 

"We spent a lot of time talking about the bigger themes of the piece,” says Owen, "how people behave under pressure, how they behave when they're in love, how they behave when they've been wronged. It's a very subtle approach, but has a way of seeping into your consciousness and coming back later when you start the actual filming.”

Nichols rehearsal approach came to fruition during production, observes Owen. "Mike is so smart and the one thing you realize is that if a director is very smart, everything else falls into place,” he says. "During shooting he does very few takes, which I think has to do with maintaining the freshness of it all, keeping it alive. When you do a number of takes, even though you can refine things, to a certain extent you start locking everything off. You can lose the spirit and life of a scene. But Mike keeps the air i

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