Published on June 30th, 2014 | by Martin Aston0
In 1996l I wrote a feature about film star Jack Nicholson for Neon magazine, interviewing those who knew him best – his friends and fellow actors. All interviews by me unless credited.
EFF COREY (Nicholson’s first acting coach, favouring improvisational method over Method Acting. Pupils included James Dean and Gary Cooper).
“Jack was 18 when he came to class, while working in the MGM mail room. He stumbled into a very talented class who all stayed connected to Jack in some way. He’d come early to class – he liked to be around my house and the whole family atmosphere here, to look through the french windows from the studio in my back yard. He said to Bob Towne [scriptwriter of Chinatown, The Two Jakes) once, 'that family sits down and eats together!,' like it was a new experience, which amazed me.
"We improvised a lot in class - I'd always tell Jack that the story of the play is irrelevant. He would tell the other students that he was the best improviser in the world, but said with wit. But remember that wonderful speech in Five Easy Pieces, to his father who is paralysed. Carole Eastman wrote the scene but Jack improvised it. He's done some damn good work, films like Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces. He's such an inventive actor. He has this wonderful devil inside, with a crazy leer and grin, which totally belongs to Jack. I got interviewed for a book, and the guy asked me if I could describe Jack as an animal, which was a silly parlour game to me, but I replied that he had eyes like a sad stallion. he has that look in his eye when he performs, which I find so interesting."
RICHARD RUSH (directed Nicholson's second film Too Soon To Love in 1960, and again in seminal 1967 biker flick Hell's Angels On Wheels and 1968 'Love Generation' saga Psych-Out)
"Casting Jack as a bully in Too Soon To Love, he already had polish - this was no green kid but an actors studio member. He also ad the right semi-butch haircut and strong-enough-to-be-mean face for the part. He made a good villain too because he's threatening and tough, yet contemporary, and you believe him because he's attractive as well as dangerous. There's a strange way of poking fun at our self-importance, that Jack throws into his characters. He does it so well that we recognise ourselves in it, and don't seem to object.
"I cast him as Poet in Hell's Angels On Wheels, playing a cheap, modern-day Faust, a young kid who hasn't discovered himself yet but gives in to the devil, a role Jack totally suited. I discovered he was an aspiring writer and director who communicated very easily. You could almost turn a knob on his chest to the IQ that you wanted, and his character becam that smart or that dumb, an amazing facility. He already had that special way of attacking lines, a slow, backhanded approach, and a proven style, a star quality, which he lent to every role. In Hell's Angels On Wheels, he developed, with my pressure coaching, a persona which became the infamous Jack Nicholson smile, a shit-eating grin that told the world, 'this is the cover for your insecurity.' It was terrifically captivating, and became his trademark. Then Easy Rider broke, I remember Jack telling me, 'shit, Dick, it looks like I'm going to become a movie star'. Giving up writing and directing was done with a kind of sadness and reluctance, and yet he was making a brave commitment to that role.
"What was he like? I remember him going to Cannes for Easy Rider, and taking his girlfriend. I said, cynically, 'isn't that like taking coals to Newcastle?' and he said, 'no, it's like taking caviar to a good party.' Some people are negative about him but that reveals the real Jack. If he was a womaniser, it was with love, and admiration."
MONTE HELLMAN (One-time Nicholson writing partner. Directed Jack in four successive films, the Phillippines-based Back Door To Hell and Flight To Fury and the Western duo The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind)
"As with most great artists, Jack's talent comes from experiencing emotion and pain - actors are especially in touch with stuff others don't want to see. Beyond that, he just has an extraordinary intelligence, one of those minds which are almost too fast to keep up with, and a striking look that jumped off the screen at you. You felt he would be a big star, as he did. He's basically the same person he was, maybe more paternal in the sense he's gathered a wealth of knowledge and likes giving out bits of it. On Back Door To Hell, Jack claims that he really discovered how to act, to make the character him rather than trying to be the character, and in Flight To Fury, he really made a transformation. Making Ride In The Whirlwind, he gave same advice to Harry Dean Stanton - 'don't do anything, just let the wardrobe do the acting,' and Harry said that was a turning point in his life."
"In the Phillipines, between the two pictures, I became deathly ill from some bug. Nobody really knew what was really wrong with me, but, in what became a typical pattern for our relationship, Jack came to visit, laid hands on me, and said he would cure me, He mumbled some stuff, and sure enough, a few days later, I was well enough to go on scouting locations. I was a few years older but he was more the father and I the son, and he liked that a lot. It's a shame we haven't continued working together but the cost of movies I was doing wouldn't have paid his fee."
PAUL LEWIS (production manager genius. Worked on, among others, Jack's two Western and Easy Rider)
"There are a lot better people than me to ask about Jack - who have you spoken to? You know, a lot of people are afraid to offend Jack, and people get intimidated in this business. That's just the way it is. I met Jack through working on the Westerns. We worked under gruelling conditions so you naturally look for escape, and the main entertainment was the race back to town, thirty miles down these two lane, twisting backroads. We gave different vehicles different handicaps, and Jack would always lose. Between the two films, Jack's riding partner Charlie bought a new Volkswagen, and on the first day of the second film, Jack crashed it. He was always competitive, whether playing basketball or racing, but we all were. It was lucky no-one got killed
"Jack was witty and caustic, with a wonderful satirical sense of humour that was very inventive - he'd coin lines and nicknames for people. As an actor, he had his own ideas but had tremendous faith in directors he worked with, which I reckon is why he continues to work with the same directors because they know the way you work. He's also excessively loyal. It's something he grew up with in the streets of New Jersey, a certain belief in honour.
"Easy Rider was always intense, with Dennis [Hopper] and Peter [Fonda] on the road as longhairs against all these fucking crazies. “People think the film opened a period of history but, for me, it closed it down. Your freedom is being tampered with and there’s no more road left. But Jack came in with a different attitude – Rip Torn, the original choice, would have played it heavier but Jack played it lighter, and played it very well, as a prankster, probably because he was high! Everyone was smoking those joints for real, and he was enjoying himself immensely. He was shot from the waist up, with the script on his lap, or beside him, and he’d forget his lines, and look up with that shit-eating smile.”
HENRY JAGLOM (writer-director, sometime actor. Contributed scenes to Easy Rider and Cast Nicholson in 1972′s A Safe Place).
“Jack and I always discussed the fact we’d do everything – acting, producing, directing. He never started to be an actor, he just did it to make a living. We’d constantly see movies, mostly good European films, and plan stuff. When Rip Torn backed out of Easy Rider, Jack only got the part because he was hanging around the office. I remember accompanying him to get his hair cut for the part – in the sixties, no-one wanted to cut their hair, and Jack was pissed off that he had to, it being a bike movie – that’s how little sense he had of how much that movie would change his life. I had to more or less hold his hand and persuade him we were doing it for the work. I remember Jerry Lewis’ shoes – Lewis was there, with thirty-four pairs of identical shoes to be polished in the barbers shop – we noted that as a kind of disease of stardom.
“Jack didn’t concentrate on acting, acting concentrated on him. He made such an impact because he had extraordinary screen impact and terrific acting ability, that filmmakers found him irresistable. I’d already directed him in actors studio projects, doing stuff that was then beyond the wildest reaches of what people thought you could do in film, that Jack later embellished in films like The Witches of Eastwick and Batman. I told him he was going to be the Clark Gable of our generation, and he said, ‘you’re full of shit,’ but I knew what would happen when he got up there on the screen. In a way it’s a shame because he’d be a truly great film director because he has an understanding and insight of human nature, but he never had a chance to go that path. He’s directed three movies but they pay you such a fortune to act, while it takes two to three years to develop and make a movie, with much less assurance of financial reward and acclaim, so it’s very hard to resist that superstardom he has through acting.
“On A Safe Place, the only instruction I gave him was to smile, as I just knew that, if he did that smile on camera, the audience would love him. But no matter how much he smiles, there’s a darkness there. His eyes are full of need and complexity and vunerability and other things that’s got nothing to do with that smile, but it’s a vunerability that he hates to show. It happens to result in an ironic cynicism that is perfect for our age. He actually turned out to be the Humphrey Bogart of our generation, with that dark and deep, ironic Irish cynicism underneath that charm and seductiveness, which connects to today’s audience’s cynical worldview. But it’s being a brilliant actor that’s sustained his stardom for so long, and taking great chances, like The Crossing Guard, where he’s so painfully open and vunerable. I can’t think of another leading male who would embrace that kind of disturbing part, and not sweeten or romanticise it. He’s a 20th century icon – I just bumped into him in London, and I’d forgotten the incredible power that is pulled towards him. It’s less to do with glamour and more to do with something very complex and dark that people recognise in themselves, but so beautifully packaged that he can get away with it.”
KAREN BLACK (actress. Played acid-tripping groupie in Easy Rider, career-launching role in Five Easy Pieces and lead role in Nicholson’s first directing job Drive, He Said).
“I arrived in Hollywood as a little teenager with tons of caps on my teeth. I met Jack through Henry Jaglom, at The Old World restaurant, and instantly loved him. We all went to my house. I had a little baby see-saw which Jack and I sat on, and did lots of stare-sies into each others eyes – they seemed very blue to me. We didn’t share scenes in Easy Rider but there was lots of socialising. Jack had fabulous parties at his house, the same one above Mulholland Drive, in LA.
“Jack isn’t an acquaintance-like guy but a being-to-being, spirit-to-sprit person, with no time for nonsense. Do you believe people are different sizes of spirit? He’s a big spirit, which informs his acting. He’s no enigma, or a covert person, but an overt person. I remember seeing him talking to someone on a plane, they were standing in the aisle. You know how people give off an aura of chumminess, but Jack didn’t know him at all. He includes people who I’d run away from, like put-down artists that would make me nervous but he would let produce a movie he was doing! He helped me feel like I was part of the show. Acting with him in Five Easy Pieces was heaven. He’d work very hard to get a scene into fruition, and only leave it alone whenl it smacked into life, real life. In the famous crying scene with his father, he definitely used stuff of his own. He’s had less luck in directing – his scripts are too complex for audiences. On Drive He Said, where everything was loaded on to him, every department possible, and he’d sit there sometimes and just die, except his fingers would curl, and he’d tilt his head slowly from side to side. That’s Jack Nicholson anguish!”
PETER BOGDANOVICH (director. One of Roger Corman’s protegees alongside Nicholson. Broke with The Last Picture Show and What’s Up Doc)
“I knew him from way back in the mid-60s. He was driving a yellow Volkswagen Bug, which he recently told me he still has. It must be some kind of sentimental attachment to remind him of his roots.
He’s actually in my first movie Target, but he appears in footage that Roger Corman shot with Boris Karloff and Jack from The Terrror which plays in a drive-in shot from my film. He was always very sweet to me. At my first screening of Target, one of those snobby Hollywood screenings when no-one says anything when it’s over, Jack came right over afterwards, plonked himself down next to me, and complimented me, and asked lots of questions.
He had a kind of shy, tentative quality to him in those days. I don’t think he’d found himself as an actor, because after Easy Rider, he became more confident, almost the epitome of confidence, to the point of arrogance, in life as well as on film. He had a slighty mocking attitude toward himself and others: he seems to see through the bullshit. What about his own bullshit? I haven’t followed his public statements that much. I know there was a lot of stuff about Anjelica [Houston, actress and Jack's main flame for 15 years], when they split up. I remember Jack and I in Belgrade, at the film festival, on a rainy day, and him being very sad because Michelle Phillips [ex-Mama And The Papas) had left him, for Warren Beatty I think, and the next thing, he and Warren were best of friends, which was interesting! He because more of a ladies man as he'd got older.
I think he's always thought of himself as a filmmaker, which is why he's so easy to work with, in terms of being on the director's side, and why he's chosen to work mostly with major directors. When he had his first chance at directing, on Goin' South, he was determined not to make himself glamourous. Jack is a bit perverse in certain areas, and he didn't want to be too commercial. He's often chosen not to be commercial, as a kind of gesture to his old rebellious days, when he was counter-culture, since he became part of the establishment whether he wanted to or not."
PERRY LOPEZ (actor. Plays police sargeant in Chinatown who is a police captain by the time of Nicholson-directed sequel The Two Jakes).
"We met on the set of Chinatown. He was always around the crew and actors but off camera, he was very friendly but very private. On my first day, it was very hard to fall into place but he was terrific. He makes things easy for you. Our big scene together was when I discovered the body of this young woman that I believe Jack's character had something to do with until I'm proven wrong. Everything went very smoothly, no improvising, just exactly as it was written. As a person and actor, Jack was very generous. I saw films like Ironweed, with Meryl Streep, and such a difference in characters! I wish I could say something bad about him but I can't. I only have respect for him.
"He was very much the same when we met again on The Two Jakes - we all were, which is why we could do a sequel. It was like we picked up from Chinatown as if it was yesterday. It's not easy to direct and be the star of the picture but I couldn't see any problems in doing both. He knew what he wanted, and was very conscious of the film, and worked very hard on it. I can't say why The Two Jakes wasn't the success that Chinatown was - some films hit and some don't, but it's a tough job doing a follow-up. I hope we do a third one, we're due for it."
LOUISE FLETCHER (actress. Played formidable Nurse Ratched in formidable One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest).
"We studied under the same coach, Jeff Corey. You'd never seen anything like him before. He was young and always had this huge smile, and he brought a freshness and spontaneity with him, an unexpected angle on things. On my first day on Cuckoo, I was terrified, I'd never had such responsibility before but Jack put us all at ease with his humour and relaxing approach. Like, if we just kept breathing, we'd be alright. I was mad at all the cast members though, they were having way too much fun, which I couldn't, being in that vice of that character. I was very jealous!
"Often, when I'd be doing a close up, a reaction shot, like showing the end of the day when everything is quiet, or sitting inside my little room, Jack would say things to me off camera, to enrich the scene, like ask me me, 'so what do you think you accomplished today?, which made it that much more interesting on screen. I learnt all about that from that film, how to help other actors.
"Very early in the movie, Nurse Ratched never has a first name, or a history. All you know is that she is this rigid, controlling woman, so Jack asked what my name was, and I said Mildred. In the first week, when he comes back from having shock therapy, he enters the ward in a zombie-like state, fooling everyone except me, and I tell him to sit down, and he looks up and says, 'hello Mildred, how are you?,' and my face turned bright red. He'd waited weeks to use it. He would surprise you with things like that."
GEORGE MILLER (Austrialan visionary behind the Mad Max trilogy and recent Babe bonanza. Directed Nicholson in 1987's Witches Of Eastwick)
"The power of the screenplay was that the devil had to be charming as all hell. It's what the great male seducers are like. The great irony about Witches of Eastwick, of course, was that Jack was so obvious for the role, so reflexly, I said no to the idea. Before I even got through the first reading, I started to see Jack saying the lines. I'd never done that before.
"He is a highly evolved human being. Very sophisticated, in the best sense of the word. He reminds me of Tina Turner: someone who is a thousand years old and at the same time is still a child. There are people who are super adults. Life has always been a quest for them, and they've derived from someplace where there is as much certainty as any human can have. That's what gives them charisma. What gives Jack the charisma is that he's both masculine and very feminine, both profane and extremely sublime, all at the same moment and that's what the devil has to be. if the devil comes on malevolent, he's not going to convince anybody. But ultimately the devil is foolish, he's flawed because he's blind to the alternative point of view and that's why he's evil. Jack's devil was ultimately blind as to what it was to be a woman and what it was to be in love. It's a problem that men seem to have."
ALBERT BROOKS (actor, part of Nicholson's early acting crowd. Starred in 1987's Broadcast News in which Nicholson had cameo role)
"His part in Broadcast News was small but everyone was thrilled he was there. He plays the New York anchor in the news team, a guy heading up the organisation, who people are worried what he thinks, and it was almost like the actors thought that of Jack. He automatically carried that panache with him, so it was very smart casting.
"I wouldn't hang out with Jack but I'd see him at parties or restaurants. Some people always let you know what they are but he's the opposite of a giant movie star. He's one of the most, 'one of the guys,' guys I've ever met, and it's one reason he can play all those parts, because he can fit in. It's a cliche but you can judge people by how they treat waiters, and he's nice to them. If you were at a big gathering with Jack, he'd be in the corner talking to the busboy. He understands this stuff is all relative, and that people are people, which is important if you're an actor. But Jack's always been that easy. He's the epitome of cool, like a jazz guy, a beatnik. He's just able to have fun, to roll with the punches, better than anyone I've ever seen. I can't imagine there isn't a darker side to Jack: he's a pretty smart guy, and anyone that creative has to have it. But I'd say it doesn't show. he'd be the last guy in a group of people to sit in a corner and be depressed. When he's alone, who knows what he is?"
PATRICK McGILLIGAN (author of Nicholson biography Jack's Life)
"It's been an embarrassing year for Jack, a real, 'Jack,' year of ups and downs. There's been his court case against Susan Aspach, who he acted with Five Easy Pieces, who's always claimed her son Cleb is Jack's, and though he's never denied it, he must have finally got pissed off with stuff she's been saying to sue her, which is so not his style. Then there was You'll Never Make Love In This Town Again, a book on prostitutes and Hollywood, which has a damning story in it about Jack being a bit abusive with one, which rings true. In a way, it's good, because when his personal live falls apart, he lies low in terms of public appearances and interviews, and just goes to work.
'He always finds some way to surprise us but what is surprising right now is that he's gone back to what and who he knows and is comfortable with, working with directors like Bob Rafelsons, even though his last couple of films with him weren't very good or successful, and Jim Brooks, and back to a character in the film sequel to Terms Of Endearment. Jack manages to be safe and adventurous at same time: what other major star has four movies coming out all at once? At the same time, he's not doing a movie with directors like Spike Lee or Oliver Stone. He's more adventurous than any other nearly 60 year old actor we've ever seen but he has ways of hedging his bets.
"If there is something moving about Jack, it's that he's a guy who takes his filmic and personal past along with him. He doesn't deal with his personal life in a tidy manner so moviegoers around the world benefit from a guy who takes chaos and puts it on the screen. His best movies show projections of his personality, the neuroses and angst, which he makes it both entertaining and disturbing, and watchable on the screen, which makes him so much more magnetic and exciting than the other stars of his generation. People sense that he isn't putting on an act. He tries to keep stuff hidden from interviews but some of it leaks out in public, which makes vunerable and terrified, but that's what makes him so interesting. You don't get that from Robert De Niro, say, or Clint Eastwood, who doesn't let it all hang out or tell us anything about himself. With Jack, there's no great sub-strata about what a bad guy he is, because he's pretty much a good guy, so you don't find stories of law suits against ex-girlfriends. During the making of Wolf, he slammed a golf club into someone's car, and it turned out that he'd had a horrible no-good day, and his best friend had died, and some guy had cut him off in traffic, and he just blew it, but he immediately settled. He's always looking for forgiveness in the characters he plays, and in real life. It's hard to find people who hate him, even those who felt betrayed by him, as most people either see his point of view or he's apologised to them. He's constructive, not self-destructive, like a River Phoenix, which is why he has endured."
BOB RAFELSON (director. Co-creator of The Monkees and the band’s 1968 film opus Head, which Nicholson co-wrote. Directed five Nicholson-starring roles, including Five Easy Pieces and forthcoming Blood And Wine)
"Head was my first collaboration with Jack. He'd abandoned his career as an actor at this point - I didn't even know him as an actor - and we wrote and produced this picture together.. When we were writing it, Jack would act out all the parts, as would I, and my eyes were just glued to the expression on his face and the intensity he brought to the performances in a script conference. I told him the next time I made a picture, he had to be in it." (Sight & Sound, 1976)
BRUCE DERN (actor, friend, rival. Cast in four films opposite Nicholson; had major role in The Trip, which Jack wrote, and Drive, He Said, Jack's first shot at directing)
"Jack was the first director - even though I'd worked with Elia Kazan and Alfred Hitchcock - who really made me feel, even though I wasn't the star, that I was as important as anybody else in the film. He was really wonderful to work with in that he's brilliant with actors. He never got the credit he should have for Drive. Everybody else makes a first picture and they always say, 'Gee, what a terrific first picture.' They didn't give that to Jack! It was an outstanding picture! (Films Illustrated, 1971)
CAROLE EASTMAN (screenwriter. Scripted The Shooting, one of twin 60s Nicholson westerns before delivering Five Easy Pieces (1970). Later penned less acclaimed Nicholson vehicles The Fortune and Man Trouble).
"Jack and Monte Hellman were to make two Westerns for Roger Corman. Jack was to write one and I, the other. I didn't know then that Jack thrives on a certain amount of distraction when he writes, and as one who reaches for her six-shooter if she hears a pin drop on the next block, it wasn't the most auspicious of circumstances that we started, at his suggestion, to work in the same room. We sat at separate desks in a small office on the second floor of the Writers' Building in Beverley Hills. And while I blindly groped through the, 'arduous empty quarters,' for something to put on paper, he planted his tree-stump legs on the floor and, looking like a seated colossus, flourished his pen over unlined pages, writing six- or seven pages scenes while he whistled annoying tunes that tended to ibliterate whatever fragile concentration I had...As I recall, the following day I stayed at home, worked alone, and was replaced, I think, by a portable stereo.
"[On Five Easy Pieces], I knew from the outset that I was writing something for Jack. I’d known him for years, loved him dearly and still do, and his influence is, as is anything you let into your bloodstream, definitely there. He’s a glorious and extraordinary actor. Along with Chaplin, one of the most generous in American film. Jeanne Moreau once told me that he has the courage of an actress, which I understood to mean, his willingness to risk the kind of emotional exposures most actors won’t.” (from Scenario, 1995)
MIKE NICHOLS (director. Made mark with The Graduate. Directed Nicholson in four films, the latest being Wolf)
“[Working on Carnal Knowledge], I was amazed at this strange Jack thing in which his sexuality wasn’t kept in a draw for dates: it was right there all the time. The rest of us have to sort of go through a gear. A little wine, candlelit dinner. Jack is in that gear all the time.
“His loyalty to people is frightening. When I called him, the first thing is he said to me on the phone was, ‘If you need me, Nick, I can be there in two days. Then comes the bill, and it’s very high, but that’s also part of ‘If you need me’…And that’s fair; the price is the price. God knows, he’s worth it.” (Premiere, 1994)
MARY STEENBURGEN (actress. Once just a simple waitress, until ‘discovered’ by Nicholson and cast in lead role opposite him in 1978′s Goin’ South)
“I got this call to go to a general interview at Juliet Taylor’s agency. Something prompted me to say at the end, ‘are you casting anything in particular?’ and it was Goin’ South. I’d been waitressing all that morning, and I was not looking very nice. I had on a T-shirt somebody had left on one of the tables in the restaurant. I was sitting looking at my feet and I heard this voice saying, ‘are you waiting to see me?’ I knew that voice. My first instinct was not to look up – I looked so bad, I thought, If he doesn’t get to see me, I’ll get to come back. So I kept looking down and said, ‘No, I’m not waiting to see you’ and he said, ‘why not?’, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have a script.’ So he got me one and then said, ‘come back tomorrow and read for ten minutes.’ He later told me that he had felt sorry for me and that he was intrigued by the top of my head.” (from American Film, 1981)
TONY RICHARDSON (director. One of guiding lights of British New Wave cinema at turn of 1960s, vis a vis Morrissey’s fave all-timer A Taste Of Honey. Directed Nicholson in 1982′s The Border)
“Working with Jack was totally different from what I had imagined as a long-time friend and a fan. I had expected, I suppose, more challenge, more dialectic, more disagreement. What I got was a different kind of total star: someone who once he arrived on the set was always meticulously prepared, who liked to be told where to be and what to do, and who could instantly deliver the goods required. In terms of staging or playing a scene, Jack didn’t want to experiment or to try different ideas, but whatever I asked he could do – and with great authority. he was also wonderfully flexible on each take…and deliver another colour or nuance instantly. Once I probed him, there was no colour I couldn’t get him to produce. On the other hand, often I felt Jack could have contributed more to the whole.
“The other aspect of Jack I could never understand was is determination to provoke me to rage and anger – to test how far he could go. He used to say to others that he fed on anger and wanted to find my breakpoint. Where he was marvellously helpful and collaborative in the way I’d imagined was on details of physical action and staging. His experience and skill in making this side of things work is extraordinary, and it was fascinating for me to see as great a master with the revolver and the shoot-out as Olivier was with a sword, a clock and a crown.” (from Richardson’s autobiography Long Distance Runner)
HECTOR BABENCO (Peruvian director. Made mark with prison drama Kiss Of The Spider Woman before directing Nicholson and Meryl Streep in Ironweed)
“Jack is more an intuitive actor rather than a rational one. Jack is like he load himself with all the essential information that he need to play the part after discussing exhaustively with the director about how see the movie, and the acting is like a moment of pleasure which he can just improvise his part. Two, maximum three times, in his third take, he is doing his best.
“On the second day of shooting, we were doing the scene in the bathroom when he sees the ghost. I saw him lie down on the floor with his face between the toilet and the wall. The toilet was very dirty and smelling bad – we are not making a chic movie, eh? – and Jack was squeezed against a corner just like a kid in a fetal position. He was preparing himself.” (from Jack’s Life by Patrick McGilligan)
TIM BURTON (madcap visionary behind Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Directed Nicholson in Batman and the new Mars Attacks)
“Jack is a textbook actor who’s very intuitive. He has a clear idea of the character and played around within those boundaries, has quite a lot of fun with it. He’d always question how much he should laugh as The Joker and at one point, asked me if he could really go nuts in a scene. But that comes only when we have a clear idea of the proper approach to take. He wouldn’t have asked me that if he didn’t feel we were in tune with each other.
“It’s not a campy performance at all. Jack is absolutely brilliant at going as far as you can go, always pushing to the edge, but still making it seem real. He’s less broad here than in The Witches Of Eastwick. You can’t play it too broad when you have white skin and green hair. He understood when it was time to bring his performance down.”
ROB REINER (all hail the creator of Spinal Tap. Directed Nicholson in 1992 courtroom drama A Few Good Men)
Nicholson is an actor, and loves to act. We have this eighteen minute scene in the courtroom at the end, and he’s got a speech that’s, like, two pages long. And he comes in there and bangs it right off. He’s there to work and do his job. And then we did coverage on all the other people, and he was off-camera. He must have done the thing fifty times, with the same amount of enthusiasm, with the same amount of energy every single time. I was surprised, because you get ideas about a guy of his stature. And I said, ‘Jack, it’s amazing, you do your…’ And he says to me simply, ‘Raab, I love to act. I don’t get a chance to play a part this good very often.’ And that’s it. He loves to act.” (Premiere,1993)