Bucket List, The : Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman Q and A

Jack Nicholson (Edward Cole) and Morgan Freeman (Carter Chambers) Q&A

When you do a movie like this, does it at bring home a sense of dealing with your own mortality?

I think what you're doing always in any acting situation is acting. You're not trying to live the character. If you are, you're going to get in deep trouble, I think. Playing a character who is dying or going to die, no, you just do it. I don't have any sense of my own mortality. I reject any thoughts of my own mortality. What's to think about there? I like the premise of the movie. It ain't about that. It's about living.

JACK NICHOLSON: Yeah, that's right and that's what the first audience said. This is a movie about living. One of the things about it that I liked is everybody considers their mortality all the time, whether they know it or not. That fear of the unknown, it drives you. I went to so many Krishna Murti lectures that illustrate this point that it's phenomenal. So, I think what I asked the other group we just came from, ‘Did the movie stay with you?’ because we wanted it, even though it's a comic approach, to have some resonance, and they said that it did. But I think it's because these are interior, private conversations that we have with ourselves that we haven't really seen them on film before. We haven't seen them on the nose like we all, I'm sure who've ever been to a funeral have said, ‘Well, how do I want my whatever-you-want-to-call-it to be dealt with?’ Do you want a big pink statue like this, which was one of my considerations at some time. Do you want to be staked out on the top of a tree like an Indian and let the birds eat you, all these kinds of things. Nobody's that different. So, I went by the assumption these are things that people have thought about, how consciously they've thought about it. And if you touch that chord, this is what you get. My first acting teacher, Jeff Corey, said your job is to provide a stimulating point of departure. This is what you do in a theatrical experience. And I thought, ‘This will be a doozy for that particular element.’ So, that's what I think about that.

How much movie magic was involved in some of their adventures, particularly the skydiving sequence?

Oh, we dove like son of a guns. Fantastic. Fearlessly leapt out into the void, didn't care and so forth. (laugh) This is part of my new lying approach. This is probably useless to you 'cause I said this before. When I was first doing interviews I met Diana Vreeland, who was the editor of Vogue magazine and talked about the normal complaints people have about interviews. And she said, ‘Well, Jack, you must not tell them the truth.’ I said, ‘What?’ She says, ‘Well, my guess is you're going to be doing a lot of interviews. If you tell them the truth, very quickly you'll become bored with your own life.’ So, you know...

So, we can't believe anything you're saying.

You can. You can believe it. It's just not necessarily true.

JACK NICHOLSON: There you go. Absolutely the right answer. (laugh)

Watching the two of you acting on screen is like watching a couple of great athletes playing a game. How did you find the rhythm with each other?

I've been dancing with him since the beginning. I know his rhythms. I know lots about him just from watching his work.

JACK NICHOLSON: And other than where it's the goal of the character, I have to push to get him in this trip. So, there's that. But other than that, I don't think Morgan and I, either of us, are pushers as actors. I think each of us is more than enough for the other. I told him when I first met him, I said, ‘You know, Morgan, this might be something somebody didn't say about you, but I consider you the modern James Dean.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Well, I'm talking about this one thing.’ There's acting and there's cinema. Dean had this quality. When they wear a hat or a coat or whatever, you don't see a graphically non-telling image of Morgan ever. I mean he doesn’t have to do too much and he does plenty. But, I mean, I don't think he'd heard that about himself. And apropos of watching one other I bring this up 'cause I thought that about him for a long time. I could almost list the various hats or coats and what they meant to the character and why it was not only right for the character, but it served the big picture. And this is what I thought was Dean. Dean knew how to be photographed. I think that was his main talent.

Do either of you have a Bucket List or were any of the things that you wanted to do on this fictional list in the film?

I'll give them the shortie. Love to see the pyramids. (laugh)

MORGAN FREEMAN: I think we all have a private Bucket List. It may not be written down on paper. You got it written down somewhere. And I'm constantly checking them off, you know. I just checked him off. I'm not sure about checking him off. Maybe I just moved him down to another level. (laugh)

JACK NICHOLSON: One of my favorite one-worders in the script that gets the most laughs ‘Well, how do you plan do that?’ ‘Volume.’ (laugh)

MORGAN FREEMAN: Right. That's one of mine too. I love that.

You both are very complete guys. You have your lives and your passions in the things that you do. So I'm wondering what it's like when two words collide. Did you spend time off the set as well? Did you go to games together?

We went to a Laker game together, had an interesting experience that night there. Because when we were leaving the Forum, people accosted you and you stopped and you gave autographs. I run. I hate giving out autographs.

JACK NICHOLSON: He hates getting stopped. Well, they're used to me down there, you know, they're all professional guys. Let them make a few bucks. I had a great experience with Morgan that night. I introduced him to Frank Robinson. And this is where Morgan, who's extremely gentle, but don't take it for granted, and another couple there when the woman says of her husband, ‘Yeah, I've always said he looks just like you, Morgan.’ And Morgan kind of stiffened up like this, grabbed the guy and put him next to him like this and says, ‘Now tell the truth. Do we look anything like one another?’ I think you get what the implied stinger in that was. And I thought, ‘That's my man. He's sweet, but don't mess with him. (laugh)

As truthful as you can be, how close to these characters are you really?

Hmm. How close are we to the real characters? Well, I don't know. I've never been a mechanic. Oh, yes, I have. I was an electronics technician when I was in the Air Force in my teens. But throughout my life what I have been is an actor, a pretender, one who gets a real kick out of make believe. So I don't think I'm that close to this character. On the other hand, well, also I'm, knock wood, outstandingly healthy. So, no, I don't, aside from being 6'2 and Black. And I have a family and, you know, the wife and stuff like that. But my answer to that is, no, I don't think I have that much in common with the character.

Is there one character or one part that you would want to do that's not on your list?

You mean, like if it's got to stop tomorrow, which one would I want to do? Hard to say because there are a lot of them. I have a Mandela script I'm going to be doing next year. I really want to do that. And there's a Western character, a guy named Bass Reeves, that I wanted to do for 15 years.

JACK NICHOLSON: Who wrote it?

MORGAN FREEMAN: Nobody wrote it yet. That's the thing.

JACK NICHOLSON: Oh, you're just making her up. I gotcha.

MORGAN FREEMAN: The character, he's a real person.

JACK NICHOLSON: You know, Morgan works on the stage. I haven't done it since I was a kid, so I haven't reread the play but he told me he was going to do something and I thought, ‘What would he and I do on the stage?’ And I thought, ‘J.B.’ is a natural for Morgan and I. This is God and the Devil.


JACK NICHOLSON: So the voice of God, you know.

MORGAN FREEMAN: I would want to be the Devil, Jack.

JACK NICHOLSON: Because he'd show me the ropes. This is really what I'm getting around to here. I don't yearn to work on the stage, but this was, I don't know any other kind of it. I like the part in Cormac McCarthy's book you know, I read the book; I didn't even know they were already making the movie but I like that Tommy Lee Jones part in there. No Country For Old Men It's a brilliant novel. I don't know the movie, but I also know that Tommy's a personal friend of Cormac McCarthy. So even if it wasn't already being made, I wouldn't have had much of a shot. But you see stuff every once in a while

How do you think the two of you would fare if you would flip your parts in this movie?

Pretty good. I think.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Pretty good actually, I suspect.

JACK NICHOLSON: Yeah. Maybe we'll do that. I mean, depends on how this one goes. (laugh)

What does that life experience do for you in approaching a role? Fifteen years ago could you have approached this role the same way you did now?

You know, again, it's an impossible question. I would approach it the same way. Once again, Jeff Corey. Eighty-five percent of whoever you play is identical to the character, whoever it is, man, woman or child. It's the 15 percent that you have to find, isolate and act, so to speak. So, I would approach it from that point of view since I've held it since I was in my 20’s, I guess that was. I mean, obviously it would be different. A lot of this movie was informed by my being not what I thought I would be, an excellent patient, but rather a poor one. That happened by coincidence just before this movie. Nothing as frightening as what these fellas had to go through. But another one of my favorite lines is this guy who sets up this whole system in hospitals and how they're run. When they ask him about it, all he's got to say is, ‘Well, I've never been sick before,’ (laugh) which I think says a lot about everybody. Suddenly you think you've got it and now you're in this situation. Jesus Christ. (laugh) You know, very different. So, acting is hopefully that every day. Sure, you'll have an idea about what this is and what that is. And then your deepest yearning is to come in and to be shocked out of your system by what actually occurs.

Jack, is there a collective value in the kinds of roles you decide to take these days and how your perceptions of acting changed in the last several decades.

Well, a friend of mine once said I, in fact, called him Dr. Doom but he was considered rigid. And one day he said something that I've always remembered: ‘People don't understand. I'm dying to have my mind changed.’ And I thought that was strong.

Are you selective about what films you take?



JACK NICHOLSON: And the criteria changes. Like on The Departed, I went into what for me is forbidden territory because it occurred to me in a different way. In acting class you're taught an actor takes his space, right? It's Zen. You'd have to go through a lot of classes to know what they mean, but this is apropos of change. On The Departed, this thing went through my mind, as everything goes through, repetitively. And I thought, ‘Well, my space is this.’ They did not hire me because there was no part for The Departed to play a part. They hired me to kick this movie in the ass, knock it sideways and put it into the realm of the possibly popular. Well, this is something an actor can't think about. I mean, you can't say I'm going to make a hit movie. You're as dead as you could be. But once I get a forbidden thought, it will not go away,

so I just went with it. So that's different. I wouldn't have approached it that way; in fact, just the opposite. I would be doing everything to block that thought out, but now I just let it in. 'Cause we make a lot of movies. You want them to be different. These are all things that you're not meant to do, like I hate careerists when you're working with them. ‘Well, I got a little show I'm going to do in Arizona.’ All that is like, I want to kill the person. But you also have to accept the reality. I've been saying for a long time, ‘No, it's not that.’ Anybody can be good once, twice if they've got some talent. But once you have to un-Morgan the part or un-Jack the part, that's when you're in the pro game, when you can suspend who they think you are and re-involve them in a new story. This is really our job at this point in our body of work, so to speak.

MORGAN FREEMAN: How well said that is.

JACK NICHOLSON: Thank you, darling. Who's Bozz's best friend in that Western picture there? Hey. (laugh)

MORGAN FREEMAN: He has a posse man, somebody who watches his back.



JACK NICHOLSON: Checking for back shooters.


JACK NICHOLSON: I love that. When I had a part one time way, way back where I didn't have much to do in the picture. Hackett wrote one. I wrote the other. We wrote it. It's an Army picture? He said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘Checking for back shooters.’ I didn't have anything to do, so I'm looking, I'm watching the weeds. I'm watching everybody. Checking for back shooters. Just so's as he don't have to ride, baby. I like to ride, but getting on it ain't so graceful. (laugh)

MORGAN FREEMAN: Ain't so graceful. Same here.

What do you think of the characters' decision to just do what they want to do on their list instead of just listening and doing what they’re told?

Yeah, I quoted earlier, almost inadvertently, but a line from the Shawshank Redemption. This was a situation, this was a case of Jack's character saying to my character, ‘Look, you either get busy living or you get busy dying.’ So, the decision was let's get busy living.

JACK NICHOLSON: And you recognize certain structural things. We knew we had to make that believable. It's in the script if you look at it. It pays off in the line where Morgan's in the bathtub and he says, ‘Why do you think I did this? Because I talked you into it.’ See, because my character, he's a guy who's good at moving people. And Morgan just says, ‘You're not that strong.’ See, but it's in there from the beginning of him getting them, what is very real. Say what you like, we're in this boat together. You can make your decision, but the real reality is you can't talk to nobody else but me about this. Everybody else's got issues, agendas, things they think. More people die from visitors than diseases, all that kind of approach, which is true. Someone asks you how much research did you do. Well, we both spent a lot of time in the hospitals. Whether it's visiting friends, you're there. Everybody. It's part of our lives. It's in the script. I'm glad you asked the question because it's not like it's a runner. My character does feel a little bad. Maybe he did the wrong thing for selfish reasons. And like many things in this, his character says, ‘I don't know what his sub-text was, this guy probably thinks he talked me into this. You ain't that strong, buddy.’ You know what I mean? That's what I mean by sentiment, not sentimentality. That's not a sentimental beat in the scene. For this guy at this point to say, ‘You don't really get it yet.’ It's good storytelling in my opinion.

Have you ever used your resources to take a whim or a dream that you've had and make it into a reality overnight?

You mean, like flying to Paris for a breakfast?

JACK NICHOLSON: An adventure.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Those kinds of things are fleeting thoughts to me. They're not desires.

JACK NICHOLSON: A lot of people ask Morgan and I about The Bucket List and so forth. But our good fortune has been that, you know, this is the great. Acting educates you about life. You're not going to take a test, but if you're of medium interests and intelligence in what you do, you learn about every total thing in life, no matter what part it is. You go on learning and that's the elixir for me of the job.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Probably the greatest part of the acting profession is the amount of reading that you have to do. And I don't mean research. I mean just scripts.

JACK NICHOLSON: That you do or don't act in. You just say, ‘Oh, this guy's got this point of view.’