Jack Nicholson has no fear. He does anything and everything as he pleases. That's because Jack knows what he wants and has never been a man to take less than that. He also does it without arrogance or conceit, and manages to make other people smile in the process.
Call it charisma or force of personality or simple charm, Jack has always displayed a relentless determination to lead an interesting life. It's the kind of fierce elan which informs most of his screen performances, and has made him one of the most engaging movie stars of all time.
"I've always fought against being controlled and manipulated and stomped upon by circumstances," says Nicholson. "If you want your freedom, you have to be willing to work hard to exercise it. That doesn't mean you're being selfish or inconsiderate, because you can still enjoy your individuality and respect other people. It's a question of attitude. I've always had lots of friends who share my perspective - I guess you could say that I'm a guy who aggressively pursues his happiness. "
Right now, Nicholson is aggressively continuing his relationship with Lara Flynn Boyle ("The Practice"), the seductive actress who has been sharing his indulgence in mayhem and merriment for most of the past two years.
Though their relationship has had its ups and downs, Jack and Lara remain one of Hollywood's most intriguing couples and demonstrates that he hasn't abandoned his bachalor ways.
On the film front, Nicholson is back in gear after a four year hiatus with PLEDGE, the (2001), a gripping detective drama that features some of his best work since Professione: reporter (1975) CHINATOWN (1974).
PLEDGE, the (2001) directed by Sean Penn, finds Nicholson in the role of Jerry Black, a melancholy Nevada police detective who grimly investigates the brutal rape and murder of a young girl during his last day on the job prior to retirement. Nicholson's performance is filled with an eerie anguish that distinguishes a fine directorial effort from Sean Penn, a long-time Nicholson friend and admirer.
PLEDGE, the (2001) boasts a fine cast in Robin Wright (Penn's wife), Benicio Del Toro, sam shepard, Helen Mirren, and Aaron Eckhart, although it is Nicholson's sense of desperation which truly makes the film worth watching.
Based on the disturbing novel by Swiss author Friederich Dürrenmatt, PLEDGE, the (2001) sees Nicholson deliver a desperate and haunting portrayal of a man so revolted by the brutality of the world that he cannot rest until the murderer is found.
We spoke at the Le Petit Four restaurant along Sunset Strip in Los Angeles recently where Jack explained how PLEDGE, the (2001) has helped restore some of his lost enthusiasm for acting and how Lara Flynn Boyle has been an active presence in his life.
Jack, many critics have said that PLEDGE, the (2001) features your best work in years. Do you share that view?
(Laughs) It was a very dark character and I find it easy to identify with that. There's a sense of hopelessness and absurdity to his life and those are philosophical kinds of issues that have always been very close to my heart.
Not that I take such a dim view of the world, but I understand those feelings and moods and it wasn't hard for me to throw myself into his world. That's why he's so desperate and driven to solve the murder. It's his way of fighting back against all the shit in the world and all the meaninglessness out there. He's trying to find some purpose and vindication in a life that's become a black hole.
Did you see Jerry as a metaphor for a lot of the pain and suffering human beings have to go through in life?
There's something to that. Life has a way of beating you down over time and as you get older you do have a much greater sense of your limitations and maybe that things didn't turn out the way you wanted them to.
In Jerry's case, he's come to the conclusion that as he's about to retire, he doesn't have anything else to hang on to in his world. He doesn't have the happy family and the picket fence. He's feels lonely and isolated and alienated from everything. So he sees this case as a last chance to redeem himself - it's his way of coming to terms with the black hole he stares into every morning.
This is a dark and bleak film in many ways. Did you find it a depressing movie to make?
No. I was very committed to the story because it's not the typical bland garbage that gets made these days. This film has guts and Sean Penn is a man who has a great gift for looking deep inside life. He probably beats himself up too much about all the pain and unhappiness he sees around him, but he's a brilliant guy and I was proud to be able to make this film with him. We had a great time and there were a lot of great actors involved in the project.
When you play a dark character like Jerry Black, does it tend to depress you personally?
No, I've been around a long time in this business and I've never believed in getting so wrapped up in a character that I take on his moods. We all have a lot of different emotions rattling around inside our heads and it's simply a question of digging up what you need and using that for the benefit of the part you're playing.
I like the cathartic aspect of acting - it's better than any psychiatrist's couch. You just pour your accumulated pain and frustration into your performance and there's a sense of liberation to being able to do that. Life's tough enough sometimes without brooding the rest of the day just because your character is having a tough time. (Laughs)
You and Sean Penn are good friends. How was it working with him?
We have a very good working relationship. The fact that we know each other simply makes it easier for us to communicate on the set because I have a good idea what's on Sean's mind and how he approaches a story.
Sean is a great actor in his own right and he knows better than anyone else the kind of climate you need to create to get the best out of actors. So he's very easy to work with and he knows when you need to discuss certain problems and work things out and when he should just leave you alone and let you find the right way to play the scene.
It's very easy working with someone like who has a profound understanding of the human soul and wants to get beyond the surfaces and dredge up all the fears and anxieties that we'd rather not deal with. If you can get those emotions on the screen, you audience is going to respond to your film.
This is your first film in nearly four years since AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997)? Why did you take so long to make another film?
I didn't really take that much time off. The only decision I made was that after AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997) I wanted to travel a bit and not think about work for a year. I gave myself a kind of year-long bonus to just relax and stay clear from all the phone calls and meetings and other garbage that's part of being in this business. But then I started getting involved in a lot of projects and I wasn't that happy with a lot of the scritps I was getting and a few films simply never got off the ground because of financing or other problems.
We were supposed to make PLEDGE, the (2001) at least a year before we actually shot it, so that was another delay because the money wasn't in place. I certainly never planned on that happening, but it's OK. At this point in my life, I'd rather wait for one good project than just rush ahead and take what comes. I can afford to be choosy! (Laughs)
Several years ago, you spoke about experiencing a vague sense of disillusionment with your life and that you didn't feel the same excitement about your work.
Well. I'm not exactly sure at what point you're talking about because I've dealt with those kinds of feelings for a long time, at least about my life. Maybe ten years ago or so I felt bored about my work and that was kind of dragging me down because it happened at a time when I wasn't too happy in my personal life and so that was a fairly unpleasant period. It was just something I had to work out of.
But I usually don't get too bogged down with my personal problems because that's a one-way street if you get yourself into a negative frame of mind and only see the dark side of life. I'm much more inclined to go out and have some fun than stay at home and brood about things. I'm feeling pretty good about things today, and I think I'll feel pretty good tomorrow.
Your relationship with Lara Flynn Boyle has attracted a lot of attention. Is she the kind of woman who's made your life more interesting?
Yeah, I think she has. She's an interesting woman and we have a good time together. I think Lara has a sense of fun and daring to her and that's probably why we like being together. I love women who haved a strong sense of themselves because I know I have a pretty good idea of what I want out of life and I like to be around other people who are also pretty secure. It just makes things easier.
Has your attitude towards relationships changed over the years?
What do you mean?
What you want out of a relationship, are you more or less pessimistic?
I don't believe that relationships are fixed things. People are necessarily complex and confused beings. We don't always do the right thing, say the right, and behave the same way or the way we always want to behave.
My point is that it's always difficult to find a common ground that allows you to be free and happy in your own right and not have that freedom interfere or disappoint or conflict with another person's. Every relationship has to deal with those inherent contradictions.
A lot of people manage to find that common ground and not let disagreements or tensions build up and destroy them, and other people break up or get divorced. I don't think anything is ever going to change that situation. You simply try to find an accommodation and an understanding with another person and work from there. But it's hard to plan or construct the right circumstances. Every day is different.
Have you been left disappointed or disturbed by your previous relationships and the way they've ended?
Well, you're asking a lot there. Obviously you're disappointed when a relationship ends even if you know it has to or you've initiated the breakup.
A lot of times in the past I've been through periods where it's been difficult for me to be with someone because I need to spend time alone because I have a loner streak inside me. So that takes some understanding on the part of any woman, just like I think it's good if a man gives a woman some time to herself because I think we all need that and we can all benefit from that. It doesn't imply a rejection of the other person, just a sense that because we do have our separate identities, sometimes you have to be less involved in another person's life or need to have that other person be lees involved in your life.
Of course, you have to admit that it's often difficult for one partner to accept another partner's need to be alone?
Yes, that's true. Staying together is a challenge. We all have to accept qualities in other people that aren't always exactly what we want or need. But sometimes a bit of distance can be very healthy. You can go away by yourself on a trip and come back very glad to be with your partner because you've cleared your head out of all the negativity.
But everybody has different needs and attitudes towards that. It's a difficult issue and probably one reason that it's difficult to sustain relationships over long periods because not everybody can have the same sense or intensity of love or need for being together with another person.
There are so many variables in the equation and so you have to be pretty determined and flexible to adapt to how a relationship changes over the years simply because we all change and we all have different needs and desires. I don't have any real advice on the subject. Human beings are always going to find interesting ways of making a mess of their lives. It's human nature. (Laughs)
What's the most important thing to you about life. What's the one thing you need more than anything else?
Freedom. I think human beings have a basic instinct to be free and explore their world in their own way. I've always been driven to look at life as something which we should try to plunge into rather than sit back. You have to be able to have fun and keep creating a sense of excitement to how you approach the world.
We've got to fight against the monotony and repression that's out there and stake our own course. For my part, I've always had this urge to feed my need to have fun and feel free. I don't see any interesting alternatives.
You've always been a man who has always loved women. Are women as exciting as ever for you?
Do you really have to ask me that question? (Laughs)