Jack Nicholson (1937)
It was on this date, April 22, 1937, that John Joseph “Jack” Nicholson was born in Neptune, New Jersey. Nicholson has been nominated 12 times for Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his rebellious psych patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and as a misanthropic, obsessive-compulsive novelist in As Good as It Gets. For the 1983 film Terms of Endearment, playing a dissipated astronaut, he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nicholson has portrayed a variety of other characters, from a drop-out lawyer in Easy Rider, a disaffected pianist in Five Easy Pieces, a sailor on MP duty in The Last Detail, a burned out detective in Chinatown, a hotel caretaker slowly going insane in The Shining, playwright Eugene O’Neill in Reds, a slow-witted hit man in Prizzi’s Honor, just your average horny devil in The Witches of Eastwick, an evil super-villain in Batman, a scheming Marine general in A Few Good Men, and even a werewolf.
In an 1992 interview in Vanity Fair magazine, Nicholson said, “I don’t believe in God now,” but he added, “I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience.” This might have informed the screenwriter of Nicholson’s 2007 film, The Bucket List. Nicholson’s character, Edward Cole, says, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.”
In his 2002 film About Schmidt, Nicholson plays a widower who tries to reconcile with his daughter, and along the way sponsors a poor Tanzanian boy through a relief agency. The aid agency is a real one, called Plan, and Ian Wishart, Plan Australia’s executive director, says the film’s producers had the idea of using an existing aid agency in the movie. “Possibly it was because we are not linked to religion or politics,” he said.
Two years later, in a January 2004 interview in Esquire, Nicholson explained further:
I resist all established beliefs. My religion basically is to be immediate, to live in the now. It’s an old cliché, I know, but it’s mine. I envy people of faith. I’m incapable of believing in anything supernatural. So far, at least. Not that I wouldn’t like to. I mean, I want to believe. I do pray. I pray to something … up there. I have a God sense. It’s not religious so much as superstitious. It’s part of being human, I guess … Do unto others: How much deeper into religion do we really need to go?”
Originally published April 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.