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More about the on-set duel between Mike Nichols and Garry Shandling

The director and star of ”What Planet Are You From?” say working together wasn’t always a laughing matter

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Mike Nichols, Garry Shandling
Francois Duhamel

”What Planet Are You From?” may be a lighthearted comedy about an alien (Garry Shandling) who comes to our planet to get jiggy with Earth women, but an article about director Mike Nichols in a recent New Yorker magazine suggests set conditions weren’t exactly a hoot. The story reveals that Nichols, who nicknamed his star ”Shambling,” went ”totally nuts” after Shandling made an unwelcome suggestion, and that costar Annette Bening had to be called in to finesse a truce. (Shandling’s inability to remember his lines despite having cowritten the script also played a part in their argument.)

In an interview last week in Los Angeles to promote the movie, Nichols told EW Online, ”Yes, we had an angry moment between us, but it was fixed within 10 minutes by Annette, and also because we’re sensible gentlemen. And I apologized, and [Shandling] understood why I had been pissed, and then it was really over. That’s real life, that’s what happens, so what? It’s not all sunshine and singing songs when you’re working on a movie.”

But in a separate interview the same day, Shandling said he was taken aback when he read in the New Yorker that Nichols felt the actor was ”playing a game of student with the master” as a way to disarm the director on the set. ”I don’t frankly know what he means, because he is the master and I was the student,” said Shandling, who added that he’s been a fan of Nichols dating back to his collaboration with Elaine May in the 1960s. ”He really took control so that I could put all my effort into acting, and that was just what I was looking for.”

In the end, Nichols said he has no complaints about the New Yorker story. ”It doesn’t bother me, because nowadays it’s really about whether an article is for you or against you, and this was written with affection and even admiration,” he explained. ”Nothing was exposed that people who know me didn’t already know about. Long ago I really was tough on the set, and I’m much better now. In fact, I’m much better than a lot of guys I know. The crew will tell me So-and-So does this or that, and I’ll think, Wow, I must be nice!” Now, Mike, let’s not go overboard with that Mr. Nice Guy, okay?