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
(continued from page 6)
The thing Nicholson is best at, of course, is acting. Not only has he been Oscar-nominated 13 times, not only has he won two Oscars and numerous other tributes, but in 1994, The American Film Institute gave him its Lifetime Achievement award. He loves acting. But what he enjoys most about his career is that he's never been typecast, as so many stars of past and present have been. Sylvester Stallone as Rambo. Gary Cooper as a cowboy. Humphrey Bogart as a tough guy with a heart of gold. And Robert Redford as every woman's sexual fantasy.
Nicholson's roles have been so varied that there's no way anyone can pigeonhole him. Whatever or whomever he portrays, whether it is such widely disparate characters as the Joker in the comic-book inspired Batman or the sexually driven Jonathan in Carnal Knowledge, he brings to the role his inimitable, special quality, and he always seems to pull it off with consummate ease.
Of the many parts he has played, he refuses to select one as his favorite. "I don't make lists or categorize things," he declares adamantly. He doesn't even care to speculate on which of the myriad roles he has played comes closest to being the real Jack Nicholson. When pressed, he grudgingly admits, "Actually, I'm none of them and all of them. There's a little bit of me, I suppose, in every part I play. As an actor you can't help inserting yourself, especially if you love acting."
What appeals to Nicholson as much as acting is directing. "You have so many people on the set fawning all over you. How could you not like it?" he asks.
He directed the 1978 film Goin' South. If he's forced to choose a favorite, he would pick that one, despite its lack of big bucks at the box office. The appeal of directing moved him, in 1989, to take on the unenviable task of not only starring in The Two Jakes, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Chinatown, but directing it as well. It turned into a disaster, and Nicholson's irascible behavior on the set touched off rumors of drug abuse. The Two Jakes, released in 1990, was received badly by the critics, and still represents one of the few unsuccessful ventures in Nicholson's long career.
Nonetheless, Nicholson has a philosophy about his work that only someone as rich and famous as he is can afford to live by. He prefers to do pictures that will stimulate him intellectually, even if they're not necessarily going to be blockbusters.
That rules out some of the action films turned out by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone and others. "I'm not knocking those people, but that's pyrotechnics!" Nicholson says. "We're in an era of moviemaking today when it has more to do with the circus and Ziegfeld Follies than honest filmmaking, like we had in the late '60s and early '70s. That's when the great foreign filmmakers like Fellini and Kurosawa and Antonioni were active. Every week a quality film would come out. That's what my peers and I were weaned on. I prefer quality to explosions. That's for kids. I've kept the license to be able to pick and choose. That's why I wanted to support Sean [Penn] in my current film."
The Crossing Guard, in which he co-stars with Anjelica Huston, is about a family disaster...a drunk driver and vengeance. "I play the father of a young girl who gets run over and killed by a drunken hit and run driver. I can't get it out of my head. Six years later, I try to exact vengeance on the perpetrator. Sean Penn wrote the script and directed the film. And it's brilliant.
"Robin Wright, a wonderful little actress, is also in it. She played Forrest Gump's girlfriend in Gump and, in my opinion, should have been nominated this year for her performance. Anjelica plays my ex-wife. There's a young man in it, too--David Morse. He's at least six-foot-five and he's going to be a big star, and I'm not talking about his height. Rarely do I predict a picture will do that for someone, but in this case I'm going out on a limb. It's a wonderful picture."
Since he is so high on the film, the possibility of it grabbing an Oscar for Best Picture is something those connected with it can't help speculating about. Nicholson, however, recoils from making predictions. "Let's just say I think it's brilliant," he says with a grin.
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Paul AI — October 2, 2010 9:07pm ET
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