Academy Award winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have long wanted to work together throughout their singular careers. What began with a script that resonated with Oscar-nominated director Rob Reiner ultimately brought these two cinematic icons together in a touching, no-holds-barred adventure that shows it’s never too late to live life to its fullest – Warner Bros. Pictures forthcoming comedy drama, The Bucket List.
“The Bucket List is a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket,” explains Morgan Freeman, star of such classics as Million Dollar Baby and The Shawshank Redemption, who plays auto mechanic and family man Carter Chambers in the film.
From the moment Reiner read the script, he heard the character of Carter in Freeman’s voice. “In my mind, there was no one else but Morgan for this role,” says the director, whose filmography traces some of the most beloved and acclaimed films of all time, from This is Spinal Tap! to Stand By Me, to A Few Good Men. “His involvement was essential.”
Freeman and Reiner both had the same man in mind to play Edward Cole, a billionaire who finds himself rooming in his own hospital with Carter: Jack Nicholson. “If we’re talking about personal bucket lists, working alongside Jack Nicholson would certainly be on mine,” says Freeman. “The way we play off each other is not something I can describe. We just do. What Jack brings to the role is his particular energy, expertise and vibe. Whatever it is, it’s what makes us all run to see any movie he’s in. Call it flavor.”
For Reiner, who previously directed Nicholson on the 1992 drama A Few Good Men, the film represented the opportunity to work with a dream cast. Nicholson, says the director, “is the greatest living actor that we have in America. Jack can be very explosive on screen, and Morgan is like the Zen master who lets nothing bother him. They complement each other in a very special way. I knew their chemistry together would be amazing and would fuel the dialogue and action in ways we couldn’t imagine just by reading it.”
Along with the collaboration, Nicholson was drawn to the universality of the story. “I thought it was very adventurous and I like to be adventurous,” says Nicholson, adding that, “It has a lot of things in it that people think about that aren’t articulated.”
Sharing the same prognosis as his roommate, Carter wiles away his time at the hospital watching Jeopardy!, for which he has a hidden gift. “He’s a guy who is very smart but has been a garage mechanic,” explains Freeman. “He wanted to do something else with his life, but circumstances caught up with him and his sense of duty made him change direction. So, instead of doing what he thought he wanted to do, he did what he thought he had to do.”
By contrast, Edward “got a lot of everything but not enough of the necessities,” Freeman describes.
“Edward is a billionaire, always gets what he wants and goes first class all the way,” Reiner explains. “He lives to make money and has poured all his energy into business at the expense of anything resembling a personal life. He has become the embodiment of that adage about how no one ever wishes, on their deathbed, that they had spent more time in the office, only he doesn’t realize it.”
“That fight has left him rather lonely, surrounded by money, so to speak,” Nicholson says. But this competitive spirit provides the impetus for the journey the two men will take together, in spite of what their doctors or families tell them is the right thing to do. “Whatever it is, he is ready to go to war over it because he basically is a fighter.”
The journey begins when Edward finds something Carter has thrown away – his Bucket List. Though Carter is dismissive, Edward straightens it out and starts adding to it. “Most of Carter’s wishes are of almost a spiritual level,” says Freeman. “He wants to witness something majestic. He wants to do something good for someone. Edward wants to kiss the most beautiful woman in the world. When asked how he proposes to do that, he says, ‘Volume.’”
Carter’s list inspires Edward. With more money than he can possibly spend, and limited time in which to spend it, he decides that he and Carter are going to check as many items off the Bucket List as physically possible in the time they have left. “Edward wants to do exciting things, like skydiving,” says Freeman. “They both agree about going on safari, although for different reasons. They each have their own lists, and they split the two as they move along.”
Thomas, Edward Cole’s personal assistant, who navigates every demanding detail of Edward’s corporate and personal schedules with wit and handles his boss’ moods and prickly personality, is played by Emmy Award winner Sean Hayes, who rose to international recognition on the hit TV series Will and Grace. “He’s the assistant who gives back as much crap as he takes from Edward and is probably one of the few people who is actually not afraid of him,” describes Hayes. “Thomas is always on call and never dresses down, which became a running joke. No matter what time of the day or night, or what remote outpost they found themselves in, Thomas always appears in a suit and tie.”
“Sean is also the perfect comic foil for Jack, and the two of them have some extremely tart exchanges that rely a great deal on Sean’s flawless deadpan delivery,” Reiner says. “In addition, he would often toss his own jokes into the mix as ‘freebies.’”
A constant force in Carter’s life, even when he is away from her, is his wife, Virginia, played by Beverly Todd, who teams up for the third time with Morgan Freeman. The two first co-starred in a two-character drama at Joe Papp’s Public Theater in New York in the early 1970s and then in the 1989 film “Lean On Me.”
Freeman credits Todd for conveying the depth of this decades-long marriage and its rich, often conflicting, emotions, saying, “What Beverly brings to a portrayal is total credibility and a range of feeling that makes audiences understand what she’s going through.” To play their son, Roger, Reiner cast Freeman’s real-life son Alfonso Freeman, and Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) plays Edward’s oncologist, Dr. Hollins.
As their journey takes Carter and Edward all over the world, what initially binds them – their illness and their hospital room – grows to encompass a both a new-found freedom and the bond of true friendship. “They become bonded over their fate, but they also learn to appreciate and enjoy each other,” says Reiner. “They decide to go on a journey together to experience things. Carter has never gone anywhere. He has never done anything. And for Edward, it’s about making a connection with somebody. He has been living a very high profile business life and put most of his time into his work. And it hits hard for him. Really, it’s the story about two guys who become very good friends and help each other work through issues they both need to work through. And it’s done with a lot of humor. There’s so much potential for comedy and the energy of these two great actors sparking off each other is just a joy to watch.”
How they affect each other and what happens between them – in between the thrill of racecar driving and skydiving, the majesty of the Taj Mahal and the excitement of Hong Kong – reveals itself to be at the root of their quest. “Carter points out that sometimes you have to go a long distance out of your way to come back a short distance correctly,” says Reiner. “It’s really about discovering what’s important in your life. They could be riding a jeep in the Serengeti one day and sitting in front of a pyramid the next but it’s in the constant thread of their conversation and reflection where the really exciting changes are occurring. Each destination leads them to examine another facet of their lives.”
“I’ve done some traveling and there are a lot of places I’d still like to see. I’m sure I won’t get to all of them but I don’t think any of that is as important as the people I spend my time with” says Reiner. “Going around the world, seeing Everest or parachuting out of a plane is great, but it isn’t something we necessarily have to do to be fulfilled, and that’s the message of this movie. The most important things in life are your relationships with family and friends. That’s what it’s all about. If you can accomplish that, then, I believe, you have a meaningful life.”
Warner Bros. Pictures presents, a Zadan Meron/Reiner Greisman Production of a Rob Reiner Film: Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the comedy drama The Bucket List, also starring Sean Hayes and Rob Morrow. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Justin Zackham, the film is produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, Alan Greisman and Rob Reiner, with executive producers Travis Knox, Justin Zackham and Jeffrey Stott. The creative team includes director of photography John Schwartzman, production designer Bill Brzeski and film editor Robert Leighton. Music is by Marc Shaiman. The original song “Say” is written, produced and performed especially for “The Bucket List” by five-time Grammy Award winner John Mayer.
The Bucket List is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. http://wwws.warnerbros.co.uk/bucketlist/