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Director Richard Benjamin (l.) on the set for filming Columbia Pictures' "LITTLE NIKITA," a taut drama of espionage and family honor starring Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix. The film was produced by Harry Gittes and directed by Richard Benjamin from a screenplay by John Hill and Bo Goldman, based on a story by Tom Musca & Terry Schwartz.
About the Filmmakers...
RICHARD BENJAMIN, found his directorial assignment on "Little Nikita" especially challenging, and he was extremely intrigued, right from the outset, with the timeliness of the script.
"This is a pro-detente picture in that the Soviet Union wants these summits and wants to stop its hard line," he says. "You only see this story through the family, but it reaches way down into the heart of the matter -- a family in the global conflict."
Benjamin was born in New York City. After graduating from the High School of the Performing Arts in Manhattan, he enrolled in Northwestern University and studied acting with the renowned Alvina Krause. He also studied directing and staged a number of student productions.
While at Northwestern, he met fellow student Paula Prentiss, who would later become his wife. Upon graduation, Prentiss won an acting contract at MGM Studios in Hollywood, and Benjamin went to New York to pursue his career. His first professional job was in "The Taming of the Shrew" for Joseph Papp's Central Park company, an organization to which he returned three years later for "As You Like It."
After a brief stay on the West Coast, he returned to New York as assistant director for a Broadway musical. Benjamin and Prentiss were married in New York October 26, 1961.
After touring the country in "Tchin Tchin" and "A Thousand Clowns," Benjamin's acting career accelerated in 1964 when he landed the lead in the national company of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park." During his year with the show, he so impressed Simon and director Mike Nichols with his knowledge of the stage that he was retained to direct the London production of the hit romantic comedy. Upon his return from London, he was signed to co-star with Dan Dailey in the road company of "The Odd Couple."
It was in 1966 that he received his first Broadway starring role in Simon's "The Star Spangled Girl." In addition to that show, Benjamin's Broadway acting credits include "The Little Black Book" and "The Norman Conquests," the latter also starring Prentiss.
He made an impressive motion picture acting debut in the 1969 film "Goodbye, Columbus," heading a cast that included Ali MacGraw and Jack Klugman. He then starred in 20 features, including "Catch 22," "Diary of a Mad Housewife," "The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker," "The Steagle" (one of his favorite films), "Portnoy's Complaint," "The Last of Sheila," "Westworld," "House Calls" and "Love at First Bite."
He won the 1975 Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film version of "The Sunshine Boys."
Benjamin's TV acting credits include starring in the popular CBS series "He and She" with his wife in 1967-68, and Arthur Miller's original drama "Fame" for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. He hosted two top-rated shows for NBC's successful "Saturday Night Live," one of which earned an Emmy nomination.
Having directed for both stage and television, he made his motion picture directorial debut in 1982 with "My Favorite Year," which brought Peter O'Toole his seventh Academy Award nomination. Much of the film was set behind the scenes at a major television network. It was an atmosphere the director knew well, having worked as an NBC page during his early career days in New York City.
Benjamin has enjoyed a great deal of variety as a director, utilizing stories that represent a variety of genres, including the poignant drama "Racing with the Moon," the gangster melodrama "City Heat" and the madcap comedy "The Money Pit." Currently, he is directing "My Stepmother Is An Alien" starring Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger.