Actor of the Week: Jack Nicholson
An acting behemoth is this week’s Actor of the Week winner - none other than the living legend Jack Nicholson. Now, Nicholson is someone who would obviously have been on the winners’ list regardless, but with it being Halloween week, what better time to award him, having starred in possibly the finest horror movie ever made: Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining.
The Shining sees Nicholson star as Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and wannabe writer. Over the winter, Jack takes a caretaker job at an isolated hotel, taking his wife and son with him. Jack’s son, Danny, possesses psychic abilities, otherwise known as ‘The Shining’, and with these abilities he sees the hotel has a horrifically dark history. Rather inconveniently, a storm leaves the family stranded in the hotel and Jack’s exposure to the supernatural forces within the hotel slowly make him lose his mind, putting his wife and son in danger as a result. Nicholson’s turn as Jack Torrance has stuck with him throughout his career, along with the iconic ‘Here’s Johnny’ scene in particular. The Shining regularly clocks in in first place in scariest movie polls, and Nicholson plays a huge part in that.
Years prior to The Shining, Nicholson didn’t get a break for quite a long time by average standards. He regularly appeared in TV series, often in bit-part roles. Easy Rider saw Nicholson earn his first Oscar nomination, starring as alcoholic lawyer George Hanson, and with this nomination, it really catapulted him to wider familiarity.
Six years after this first nomination, he landed his first of three Oscar wins for his role as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Nicholson’s McMurphy has a long criminal history, and once more finds himself in hot water, but rather than take the rap and stand up, he pleads insanity and is sent to a psychiatric hospital, hoping to have an easy ride. Upon his arrival, he is subjected to the abuse of Nurse Ratched, who preys on the issues of the other inmates/patients. McMurphy decides to make a stand against Ratched, and rallies his fellows to help. The film was met with widespread positivity, with several of the cast, and crew, knocking it out of the park, thus winning an incredible five Oscars in total. At this point, if not already, it was clear Nicholson was big-time, and he would go on to achieve many more successes.
Being huge fans of the comic book genre here at LoF, we have been extremely grateful to Nicholson for his turn as The Joker in 1989’s Batman. The first proper take on Gotham, Batman and everything that comes with it, Batman was a huge success, and continues to live long in the memory of both those who watched it at the time, and those who picked up on it later on. Nicholson’s take on The Joker is fantastic. He brings the character right off the pages of a strip and adds the human element perfectly, without losing any of the extrovert nature of such an elaborate character. Nicholson’s Joker has a great blend of ruthlessness and ridiculousness, and endeared himself to many comic book fans as a result. Both Keaton’s Batman and Nicholson’s Joker are still considered the best by many, and that is testament to their forward-thinking approach all those years ago. This role also showed Nicholson’s ability to bring a great comedic element to his work, thus displaying yet another skill with great ease.
Sticking with the comedy approach, I feel his role as Dr. Buddy Rydell in Anger Management is well worth a mention. I’m well aware that Adam Sandler was never considered a great, per se, but there was a time he did manage to churn out some very fun comedy films, before his deterioration into the same old cheese, and Anger Management was one of those occasions. Sandler and Nicholson bounce off each other very well, and Nicholson’s humour almost seems even more hilarious because he’s clearly much older, but gives growing up the two fingers! Not his best performance in terms of depth, but if you ever want an easy film of an evening, this one is perfect, and they’re just as important as the blockbusters!
Nicholson’s other two Oscar wins came for a supporting role in Terms of Endearment and for a leading role in As Good As It Gets. Both films being comedies, it again showed Nicholson’s prowess in this genre, which is, to me, even more impressive an achievement, considering roles in films such as the aforementioned The Shining and how they can define an actor. Not so with Nicholson, as he is known to have a wide arsenal of skills. It is also worth noting that there are films he has starred in that have won Oscars where he hasn’t personally, and this is a direct result of the quality involved in such films. A good example of this is The Departed, as he works under the stellar Martin Scorsese, as well as alongside former Actor of the Week winners Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.
While it is true he is no spring chicken, and has unfortunately wound down his acting output in recent years as a result, what he has done is left us with one hell of a back catalogue to enjoy. Jack Nicholson is one of a kind and extremely unique. He is cut from a rare cloth, and I am certainly lucky to have been alive at a time to witness it. Thanks Jack.