Jack Nicholson - A Star At War With Himself
Daily Express 26th December 1992
JACK NICHOLSON should be court-martialled for the deeply-devious scene stealing he performs in A Few Good Men. The thrilling courtroom cat-and-mouse drama opens in Britain with immensely appropriate timing on New Year's Day.
It's a cracker-Jack start to the year. And a serious semaphore that Jack's back and is offering, like a Rolls-Royce, top of the line, towering performances.
He says he has not been away. He's not looking at 1993 as a comeback year. Nicholson on screen has always been an excuse to pop champagne corks, but of late the vintage has sometimes been open to question. Not in 1993. It's going to be a very good year.
A Few Good Men is a vehicle for younger stars Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and Nicholson has only three major scenes as Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup, a career serviceman who's willing to do anything for ultimate power. He will be nominated as Best Supporting Actor for the Oscars on March 29 next year.
Nicholson is also certain to be nominated as Best Actor for his title role in Hoffa, which opens in Britain in early spring. That will place him in uneasy competition with himself at the box office.
Like Jessup, his Hoffa is wound up and driven by the need for power. The roles provide Nicholson with his finest work for some years. With one he makes magic of only a few frames of celluloid. In the other he inhabits a whole movie. And he indifferent in both parts.
The first thing to understand about Jack Nicholson is that what we see on the screen is acting. Away from it, you don't hear the loony legalese of long-ago Easy Rider or the Neanderthal Brooklyn tones of Charlie the hit man of Prizzi's Honour, the crazy cackle of The Joker or any of the mannerisms from his cavalier career of characterisations.
Jack goes manic as the hotel caretaker under ghostly influences in Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining (New Year's Day, Sky Movies Gold, 10.5p.m.).
He also appears with Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in the bitter-sweet tale Terms Of Endearment (New Year's Day, BBC1 Scotland only, 10.10p.m.), which won five Oscars including Best Picture.
He has been comic and dramatic, but always charismatic. Sometimes, he is all three in the same film. But his face off-camera is often without expression. It's a blank sheet of paper waiting for him to perform the magic which has often resulted in remarkable metamorphosis. When he's not hiding behind his trademark Ray-Ban shades, there is always The Grin; The Killer Smile — malevolent eyes and flashing teeth.
George Orwell said that at 50 everyone has the face they deserve. At 54, Nicholson has done well in comparison to his spectacularly indulgent life style of working and playing hard. I've always seen him as Jolly Jack the Pirate: the Hollywood buccaneer ready to run up the Skull and Crossbones at pomposity. Slyly, and without emphasising the irony, he says: "I like taking it decade by decade."
The Nineties are proving one of the most fruitful in all aspects of the life of Hollywood's premier Mr Cool. He has two children by former waitress turned actress Rebecca Broussard.
Lorraine, two, and nine-month-old Raymond live with their mother in the San Fernando Valley, while Nicholson remains king of the castle up on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. It is an arrangement he always insisted worked, but Broussard, 29, is reported to want out.
Nicholson was said to be heartbroken. That was one day. The next, he was at a Hollywood party acting very much Jack the Lad. That's what he does. Act.
So far in this decade, Jack has left longtime lover Anjelica Huston for Rebecca Broussard, only for actress Karen Mayo-Chandler, 29, to kiss-'n-tell while Broussard was pregnant and say that during their relationship he was a "non-stop sex machine".
It was not the affair with Mayo-Chandler which ended what had been a 16-year relationship. It was Broussard being pregnant. Anjelica Huston had always wanted a child.
A friend revealed: "Anjelica said 'ciao' to Jack after learning about the baby."
Nicholson, who had played an adulterer in Heartburn opposite Meryl Streep, reflected on the situation. "There's something autobiographical in a man who might do something as heinous as buy a woman a bracelet while his wife is pregnant. "This may be grounds for execution in most peoples minds, but we wouldn't have many men left if the executions were carried out.
"The rogue male is a character the audience just won't buy. You can have a mass murderer get away scot free, but not some guy who is fooling around."
He's not fooling around, but relishing his role as a father again. He has a daughter Jennifer, 29 — the same age as the mother of his Nineties children — from his 1961-1966 marriage to actress Sandra Knight.
She has a 21-year-old son Caleb, widely reported to be Nicholson's, but the actor has never felt it necessary to confirm or deny this. He regrets being open about drugs and sex in the past. But today, still says: "I love women. I love the way they walk, smile and move. I find it intoxicating. Age is irrelevant."
It was certainly no barrier to his relationship with Broussard, who played the secretary to Jake Gittes in The Two Jakes, the dandy of a detective that Nicholson created in Roman Polan-ski's 1974 Chinatown.
Only others found their two-home arrangement strange.
"I'm very moody and I shouldn't be around anyone when I think the world is too awful to tolerate," says Nicholson. "I'm too eccentric and restless to live day in, day out with someone.
"I need a place where no one gets to. It's my office, not my harem. I have to be - on the phone, read scripts and have all those Hollywood lunches so I don't wind up working on the same movies Bruce Willis makes. There is no abundance of quality projects, so you have to be on the ball."
Nicholson's home was built in the Fifties for an IBM executive. It is not instantly spectacular. Inside, there is a Picasso here and there.
From one side the hills drop down to the San Fernando Valley with the lights of suburbia fading into the mountains.
From the other side of the swimming pool the eyes stretch towards the Pacific and you can see the jets like little glowing birds waiting to land at Los Angeles Airport.
Every supposedly sane person wants to leave this city, flee the smog and the crime and the riots and the violence, but Nicholson says: "I'm mad about LA.
"People comically impugn the LA sensibility, but it's based on breadth. We have an open view of things that come out of the topography."
He's mellower now, he admits. More calm. His daughter Jennifer says he has never been as wild or wacko as people think.
"That's the question I always get: 'Is your Dad crazy?' The answer is no, he's not crazy, but he pretends to be."
When Nicholson and Brando made the dreadful Western Missouri Breaks in 1976, the two would greet each other each breakfast with: "Another day, another million dollars."
Hey, but that was another decade. And lack Nicholson just wants to take one at a time.
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