Melanie Griffith remembers her famed Working Girl director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge) in a new oral history, Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols as remembered by 150 of his closest friends by Ash Carter and Sam Kashner. (Nichols died in 2014 at the age of 83.)
Recalling one of the more humbling moments of her life, the 62-year-old actress goes into detail about how much she upset Nichols when she appeared intoxicated on the set of the 1988 classic. Griffith said she was asked to pay $80,000 in compensation for production time lost.
“There were a lot of things that happened on Working Girl that I did that were not right,” said Griffith in the book.
“It was the late ’80s,” she continued. “There was a lot going on party-wise in New York. There was a lot of cocaine. There was a lot of temptation.”
This isn’t the first time Griffith has touched on this incident, which was a pivotal moment in her fight for sobriety. Three weeks after her encounter with Nichols in 1988, Griffith checked into a rehab facility. Since she was a teen, Griffith, who is the daughter of beloved actress Tippi Hedren, has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.
“I was never loved unconditionally,” she told Vanity Fair in 1994. “Coke, booze give you a feeling, a physical sensation … a buzz inside your body that takes the place of something you should have had when you were a child.” Griffith also admitted that when she was 10 she would drink wine “like a soft drink. I was medicating myself so I could escape my pain and insecurities.”
After her stint in rehab in 1988, Griffith went to rehab two more times (in 2000 and 2009). Her former husbands Don Johnson (whom she married and divorced twice) and Antonio Banderas both supported her during her tumultuous journey.
“I think part of the reason my marriage to Antonio fell apart was because I was stuck; nobody else is to blame,” Griffith told Porter magazine in 2017, about her divorce from Banderas two years before. “It’s just that I personally got stuck and I won’t let that happen again, I want to enjoy life, I want to do whatever I want to do.”
But it was the upset on the set of Working Girl that first caused Griffith to rethink her hard-living lifestyle. Producer Douglas Wick remembered the crew being enchanted by and concerned about Griffith from the beginning. (Nichols insisted that Griffith play the film’s main lead, Tess McGill, the love interest of Harrison Ford’s character, Jack Trainer.)
“From the first reading, we all got a giant crush on Melanie’s talent,” Wick told the authors. “She incarnated Tess, and there was no great version of the movie without her. But it was challenging.”
Producer Robert Greenhut told Carter and Kashner that Griffith was “unreliable” and did a lot of cocaine. The crew was always worried if she would be able to perform.
In a candid interview featured in Life Isn’t Everything, Griffith remembered getting drunk while she played pool with costar Alec Baldwin, who was sober at the time. (She said she told the bartender to bring her a rum and Coke every time Baldwin got a Coke.)
“When we got back to the set, I had vodka in my motor home, so I had a slug of vodka, and it mixed and made me so drunk, which I thought was really funny,” Griffith said, per the book. “But it wasn’t, and it was cold, and I had to walk down the stairs with Alec, and I couldn’t do it.”
Wick got a call from Nichols, who was “distressed” because “Melanie was clearly high,” Wick explained. He then learned that Griffith was getting drugs delivered on set. Wick talked with agent Michael Black to figure out a course of action, according to the book. They told Griffith that they were going to withhold from her salary to account for the time production was shut down. The producer and agent also required a nurse be on set for the rest of filming.
“Mike got so mad at me, he wouldn’t talk to me. Mike Haley, the first AD, just came up and said, ‘We’re shutting down. Go home,’ and I knew I was in so much trouble,” Griffith told Carter and Kashner. “The next morning he took me to breakfast and said, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to pay for last night out of your pocket. We’re not going to report you to the studio, but you have to pay for what it cost,’ and it was $80,000. They wanted to get my attention and they really did. It was a very humbling, embarrassing experience, but I learned a lot from it.”
For Nichols, the experience was painful for a different reason.
“The thing that surprised me—because Mike was so sophisticated, he’d seen it all,” Wick said, according to the book, “I was surprised by how genuinely distressed he was, how in pain about it he was, how much he was traumatized by it, and I think the reason is that it made great work impossible.”
Life Isn’t Everything is on sale now.