04/24/2012 08:22 am ET Updated May 29, 2012

Mike Nichols Honored In New York For 'Death Of A Salesman'

Mike Nichols, director of the critically acclaimed Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman,” was honored at a lunch in New York Monday. The play received five Outer Critics Circle nominations that morning, including best director, best revival of a play, best actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and best featured actor (Andrew Garfield.)

Nichols, 80, showered praise on his cast, noting that the creative process of directing the show was “as mysterious as sex: You know you had a great time, but you don’t quite remember what happened.” He added: “This is the happiest I have ever been doing a play. Make of it what you will.”

Along with the show cast, the Four Seasons was swarming with post 50 luminaries, including Diane Sawyer (Nichol’s wife), Anna Wintour, Tom Brokaw, Whoopi Goldberg, Frances McDormand, Tina Brown, Dame Judi Dench, John Turturro, Nora Ephron and Barry Diller (who said he had never seen the play before, and it upset him so much he nearly vomited on Meryl Streep sitting in the row in front of him).

I chatted with Linda Emond, who is stunning in the role of Linda, Willy Loman's wife, and Cynthia Nixon, who had regrown a fine layer of peach fuzz after recently shaving her head to portray a cancer patient in "Wit.”

Nixon said she was frequently mistaken for a real cancer patient, and at least once for a Tibetan monk by a Nepalese cab driver. But she fit in quite well at her weekend place in Montauk, where she'd noticed a puzzling rash of people with shaved heads. (I felt compelled to dig further: Turns out the Montauk Catholic parish St. Therese of Lisieux had just sponsored a “St. Baldrick’s” event, in which dozens of parishioners volunteered to have their heads shaved to raise money for childhood cancer research.)

Nixon was dismayed to find her hair growing in a warm shade of brown. “What color is it supposed to be?” I asked, thinking of the red-haired Miranda Hobbes of “Sex and the City.”

“Blond!” Nixon replied.

Emond, smashing in an emerald green dress, noted that she didn’t realize her own hair color was brown until she moved from sunny southern California to the Northwest. It seems environment makes all the difference.

And until 'Salesman' closes on June 2, Emond’s environment is the nightly emotional maelstrom of Arthur Miller’s play. I told Emond I had read that when the late George C. Scott played the Willy Loman role in 1975, it left him exhausted and sad, and broke down his optimism about life. “We’re all pretty much around the bend at this point,” responded Emond, who performs the role seven times a week.

I was seated next to Remy Auberjonois, who portrays Howard Wagner -- the man who fires Willy Loman (and also plays Dr. Emerson on "Mad Men," smoking in the examining room in one memorable scene.) Auberjonois said Hoffman played the scene differently every night, and that in some performances, Hoffman grasped his arm so tightly he wasn’t sure he could pull away, making their conflict all the more real.

“I knew a guy who had taken over his dad’s business and had to fire people,” Auberjonois remarked. “He said, ‘sometimes you have to do it, you have these old guys who just stop [working].' It was different, his company offered pensions. But for some people it’s just business.”

Auberjonois, who has an MFA from Yale, added that as an actor, he could relate to Loman's uncertain life as a commissioned salesman. But seven nights a week, in his pivotal scene with Hoffman, "it's all worth it."