Posted: 11/24/02

Jack's Back, But in Less Familiar Territory
by Paul Fischer

He's a triple Oscar winner, a charismatic superstar, and a legend. He is also one of the most imitated actors in Hollywood. Just when you thought the remarkable Jack Nicholson couldn't get any better, his pathetic character in About Schmidt proves there's even more to come from this extraordinary actor. Paul Fischer met and talked with the Hollywood legend in Los Angeles.


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Jack Nicholson sits like a king in his throne room as he holds court with the press, wowing them with his enigmatic charm and grace. Despite the cold that he has been harbouring for several days, Nicholson, who is eagerly promoting his latest film, About Schmidt, says he "will try and talk faster to make up for it." Grinning slyly, the actor, groomed and elegant in suit and tie, admits that it was not difficult to relate to the somewhat pathetic and sad character he plays in his latest film. "I looked at him as the man that I might have become if I wasn't lucky enough to wind up in show business," Nicholson replies in an all-familiar drawl. He draws that correlation because of some parallels between himself and Warren Schmidt, "in the sense that he is sedentary, had a mathematical background as I had and was an actuary. It is a slight stretch of the imagination, but most people are alike in most ways. I never have any trouble identifying with a character that I'm playing." In this case, in this story of a man losing hold of his life through a series of losses, Nicholson says that he found a lot to personally deal with in this film. "Such as the retirement issues, what happens when your normal activities of your job no longer drive your day, your loved ones move away from you and your children get older." For instance, Nicholson explains, "my daughter Jennifer has a clothing shop she is opening, so she is in her own business now, and I don't get to talk to her as much as I did a year so ago, so there is always a lot to identify with."

Physically, the actor is seen in an unflattering light here: unshaven, unkempt, and perhaps a bit more real. "It's sort of like what I go through in the mirror every morning. But I do kind of stand sideways," he says.

One of the other themes of the film is Schmidt's insistence that he has never made an impact on the world. One can't say the same about the larger-than-life actor who portrays him, whose impact on Hollywood and audiences is obvious. Nicholson laughs and concedes, "I didn't identify with THAT part of it." But as he also adds, "I think I could understand it. I certainly had as much time as anybody in life feeling thwarted, and you're not always identified in the way you'd like to be identified - so that is also partially true. However, I also have a lot of contact with people in my life who want to be seen; there are whole fields of psychology based on that fact that people want to be seen," laughs the veteran actor. "But you try and tap into things that are generally felt, that if you're a communications artist, which I flatter myself in believing, then that is our field."

As to whether Jack himself thinks about retirement, he smiles slightly. ""Well, you know I've done a lot of print interviews lately, so obviously I've been asked that a lot. I'm pretty precocious as a person. I started thinking about that before The Two Jakes was written." There's no sign of the actor slowing down, professionally or personally. Refusing to confirm his current dating partner, he is philosophical regarding the prospect of getting married again. "I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life, and in all relationships, have always thought that it is counter-productive to have a theory on that, because it is hard enough to get to know yourself, as you have probably found. Once you try to get to know two people in tandem, it is even more difficult. And if its going to be successful, it is going to have to be very specific, real and immediate, so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful." As to whether Nicholson, like his latest character, yearns to travel, the actor mentions the South of France as a regular locale. "I've got my groove laid out there pretty good; it is a beautiful place to be. I also have a home in Aspen even though I don't ski as much, but my kids are starting to ski now, so that is even better. But I gave up being an adventurer. I no longer want to go into the jungle. I haven't seen the pyramids so I'd like to do that. But I travelled a lot because of the movies. When I was very young, I did the jungles and the deserts and all that. Just give me Main Street these days."

Much has been written about Jack Nicholson the actor, the movie star, the father, and the womanizer. He admits that most of it is fiction, but as to how he would LIKE to be seen, the actor, always fresh with the one-liners and that trademark killer smile, cannot resist an appropriate response. "I would like to be seen as very endearing, charming, intelligent, handsome and so forth. I'm not hard to get along with really."

About Schmidt opens in NY and LA on December 13 and opens wider in January of 2003.

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.

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