When critics question whether there’s too much Jack in one of Nicholson’s performances, the actor shrugs, “So what? … I always bring everything of myself that I can to a part. You have to, otherwise you become predictable and conceptual. And what else really does an actor have to work with?”
“The Bucket List” pairs the 12-time Oscar nominee with longtime friend Morgan Freeman, allowing both actors a chance to toy with their off-screen personae. Nicholson plays the bad boy, Freeman his sage cancer-ward roommate, as both resolve to go not so gentle into that good night.
“This movie is what you call a two-hander — you know, Morgan and I — so how can I get involved in a best actor conversation? I mean, we’re inseparable,” says Nicholson, also tipping his hat to director Rob Reiner (reteaming after “A Few Good Men”). “Rob won’t be credited as much as he should be for how simple the movie is, because it’s a daring project, a comedy in which imminent demise is at the center of it.”
“The Bucket List” is a crowdpleaser targeted at mainstream audiences, not necessarily Oscar voters. And the prospect of a 13th nomination?
“It absolutely doesn’t factor into the parts I pick,” Nicholson says. In fact, “The Bucket List” is considerably less showy than its mortal concerns might suggest, omitting onscreen death scenes altogether.
“When you’ve got four people together, they’re all going to have different views on faith,” the actor says. “I got to express mine in the picture to some degree. If you look at the last line, ‘He was happy with his resting place, which was on the mountains — and that it was illegal.’ If you don’t have that little turn at the end, there’s too much Santa Claus in that line.”
Sure enough, you don’t have to look hard to see pieces of Nicholson in the role — or recognize the fresh challenges it brings to a career of wide-ranging characters.
“You provide a stimulating point of departure,” he explains. “That’s what a theatrical enterprise does. In fact, I call that the pro game of acting.”
Favorite film: “Brando in ‘On the Waterfront.’ I was an assistant manager in the theater in New Jersey when it played, so I probably saw it 12 or 15 times. He was the guy of my high school generation.”
Young actor you admire: “I don’t make that list,” he scolds.
What you want in a director: “I’ve been blessed working with the greatest directors around for a very long time. These days, of course, I’m looking for a script.”
Vice: “I stay up too late and get up too late.”