On His Own Terms
Riding high atop Hollywood's star machine, Jack Nicholson is enjoying the view.
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
When meeting Jack Nicholson for the first time, you can't help but wonder just who he actually is: the boozy Southern lawyer of Easy Rider? the short-tempered former concert pianist of Five Easy Pieces? the sexual jock of Carnal Knowledge? the cynical private eye of Chinatown? the con-artist mental patient of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? the slow-witted Mafia hit man of Prizzi's Honor? the philandering Washington journalist of Heartburn? the cigar-chomping Marine commander of A Few Good Men? the out-of-shape astronaut of Terms of Endearment? the Joker of Batman? the book editor-turned-werewolf of Wolf? or perhaps the vengeance-driven father in his upcoming film, The Crossing Guard?
Or perhaps Nicholson is the freethinking, rebellious Hollywood legend who thus far in his career has garnered two Oscars, 13 Academy Award nominations and a half-dozen Golden Globe awards, and who is presently commanding so much money per film that it's absolutely indecent.
It's a pleasantly warm Southern California afternoon when Nicholson makes a slightly belated entrance into the living room of his modest eight-room home, a house that sits atop a mountain overlooking Beverly Hills.
Dressed casually in slacks, a pale green polo shirt and a sleeveless sweater, Jack looks less the internationally known millionaire movie idol than an assistant golf pro at a driving range in Cucamonga. He has a trim physique, thinning brown hair, sleepy eyes and, at 58, a still somewhat boyish face. He strides into the dining room and sits down at the end of a long wooden table to munch on a chicken sandwich and talk about his life as a superstar, a concerned Los Angeles citizen and, not incidentally, a cigar smoker.
Although he's been a cigar smoker for most of his life and grew up around cigar smokers, Nicholson didn't become a devotee until about four years ago.
"I used to smoke a lot of cigarettes," he confesses. "Too many, in fact. That's one of the reasons I took up cigar smoking seriously. I figured the only way to break a bad habit was to replace it with a better habit. I started smoking when I was a kid, and I smoked until I got married to Sandra [Knight] in 1962. We both decided to quit smoking, and I did for about 10 years."
But in 1973, Nicholson starred in The Last Detail. "I wanted the petty officer character I played to be a cigar smoker," he says. "So I smoked cigars while we were filming the picture--real Cuban cigars, which, of course, are the best. The only cigar, in fact. I could get them in Canada where we shot the picture. And that started me smoking cigarettes again, until about four years ago when I took up golf.
"I'm so nervous when I play that I found I was smoking a half a pack of cigarettes during a round," he says. "So in order to cut down, I got in the habit of lighting a cigar around the fifth hole and smoking nothing but cigars for the rest of the round. That succeeded in calming me. And I'm now down to a 12 handicap." He takes another bite of his sandwich and adds, "I guess I am not the only golfer who smokes cigars. Larry Laoretti keeps one in his mouth the whole time in a tournament--even when he's putting. There must be something to it. He won the Senior Open."
One thing that's evident after a few minutes with Nicholson is that he can speak intelligently on almost any subject--ancient history, art, politics, women, sports, food, publishing, basketball, movies, Chinese philosophy, how cigars are made, in what province the best Cuban tobacco is grown and how the cigar got its name.
"I read a lot. I may not be an expert on a given subject, but I can hold a conversation on just about everything," he teasingly boasts.
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Paul AI — October 2, 2010 9:07pm ET
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