SUBSCRIBE NOW
and save 64% off the cover price
Magazine
SUBSCRIBE TO ESQUIRE MAGAZINE & ESQUIRE DIGITAL EDITIONS
Save up to 64% on the cover price - click here for our latest SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS and to get our digital edition for ipad now.

Jack Nicholson's What I've Learned: "My Motto Is: More Good Times"

Jack Nicholson's What I've Learned:

They’re prescription. That’s why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you’ve experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can’t look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can’t emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armour.

I hate advice unless I’m giving it.


I hate giving advice, because people won’t take it.

I love discourse. I’m dying to have my mind changed. I’m probably the only liberal who read Treason by Ann Coulter.

I want to know, you understand? I like listening to everybody. This to me is the elixir of life.

I don’t think many people have a very good understanding of leisure and the importance it plays in our lives. People today are too competitive about leisure, as if it needs to have some other value in order to be able to fit into our puritanical view of the world. But if you’re playing golf to get a loan, it ain’t gold, you know what I mean?

I was particularly proud of my performance as The Joker. I considered it a piece of pop art.

The camera photographs what’s there.

Right now, I’m upset because I was supposed to have the weekend to play golf. I just finished, like, two straight years of work. I thought I’d take some time for myself. I figured that this weekend I’d be able to get out there on the golf course. And then, boom! There goes my hamstring. And here’s the rub: rather than just give myself a break and say, “OK, you have every excuse in the world to lay on your ass this weekend and watch the ball games,”

I have to be a Calvinist. I have to complain: “Son of a bitch! I’m here. I’m inside. When’s the hammie gonna get better? I’ve already tested it too early and hurt it again. How long is it gonna take to heal? Have I already ruined the next two weeks?"

I’m pretty well ashamed of this, but I only read the sports pages.

The fuel for the sports fan is the ability to have privatetheories.

I’ve always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn’t the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. I always said, “Batman and basketball. Night games and night comics.” Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain night time juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going.

I’m the age where we didn’t have television as kids. So when I saw my nieces and nephews watching Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and so forth, I thought the world had gone mad.

If you think about those old shows, they all had puppets. And somehow I think, symbolically speaking, that has contributed to a generational lack of ability to accept personal responsibility. It’s why the baby boomers are such conspiracy theorists and I’m not. It’s why everybody thinks we went to Iraq to get the oil and I don’t. I see that as a minor, symbolic generational difference that all adds up to mass movements. People are so frustrated. They don’t want to take responsibility for their failures. There’s always an excuse, you know? It’s always, “I’m this and that’s why” or, “This happened to me and that’s why.” Everyone had the impulse to point their fingers elsewhere. They point at the puppet: “He did it! Not me!”

Lately, I’ve been de-emphasising what actors think of as character work. The limps and lisps, the accents — I don’t want to be bothered. You gotta make it come from the inside. It’s all about who you are. That’s all you can really contribute. I feel autobiographical about whatever I do.

I was talking to Sean Penn on the phone today. I told
 him it was interesting that they managed to leave me
off this long list of method actors they’d published in some article. I told him, “I’m still fooling them!” I consider it
an accomplishment. Because there’s probably no one who understands method acting better academically than I do, or actually uses it more in this work. But it’s funny — nobody really sees that. It’s perception versus reality, I suppose.

Believe it or not, I supported Richard Nixon on the issue
of presidential privilege. How could anyone conceive of
being the president of the United States and think that every single thing that you say or do can become a part of the public record? It just seems to stupid to me. A man needs a private life. With no ability to have a private life, one thing leads to another, and before you know it we have Bill and Monica. We need to get real about things. Humans are humans. Why should we expect more?

My motto is: more good times.

I think I’ve done OK. I take responsibility for my successes as well as my failures. But when I look at my professional mistakes, I’m always left with the feeling that maybe I should have done more. These are my private musings. I’m such a perfectionist. I always feel over-praised, or whatever. In the abstract, I know I’m a good person, a good professional. But it’s nice to be noticed a little bit, ain’t it?

I’m certainly not as tough as people think. I’m not a fighter and so forth. I’d just as soon go home.

Children give your life a resonance that it can’t have without them.

I certainly knew my father. He just didn’t happen to be my biological father. That is correct: I didn’t hear that my sister was really my mother until I was 37 years old. But life had taught me that there have been a lot of things that I didn’t know. If I start giving what I didn’t know more weight because of the half-digested view of an analytical life, it’s working against yourself. Accentuate the positive, that’s what I say. It’s a trick, but it works.

Here’s another old actor saying: It’s very easy to go down, so always live up. Incline yourself upward.

I’d prefer if people had no impressions of me. As a kid, I had to tell my own family, “Please, just don’t talk about me!” Because they always got it wrong. Always, I just didn’t want them to tell anyone anything about me. God knew, they had a great opinion and they loved me and meant well, but it was like, “Please, you don’t have this right.” You know what I mean?

Men dominate because of physicality, and thus they have mercy where women do not.

When it’s over for a woman, it’s over. You’re not getting an appeal.

There’s a tacit agreement in the nation today that the white male is the only legitimate target for any and all satire, criticism, and so forth. And we pretty much just accept it. A lot of people in the middle of their lives have a secret yearning for more romance.

I don’t know if this is a true statistic, but I heard somewhere that there are three times as many single women over 40 as single men. That’s what we got from the women’s movement. The chickens have come home to roost.

I respect the social graces enormously. How to pass the food. Don’t yell from one room to another. Don’t go through a closed door without a knock. Open the doors for the ladies. All these millions of simple household behaviours make for a better life.

We can’t live in constant rebellion against our parents — it’s just silly. I’m very well mannered. It’s not an abstract thing. It’s a shared language of expectations.

I think the Greeks invented sports as an antidote to philosophy. In sports there are absolute rules. It’s not, “What about this? What about that?” Either you’re safe or you’re out. It’s 10 yards or it’s not. It’s in the hoop or out of the hoop. It’s certain.

What do I do well as a father? I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love. And I have a lot of skills in terms of getting them to express themselves. I’m good with handy hints — if they can tell me what their problem is — ’cos I’ve had a lot of problems in life myself. I make an effort to expose them to things. I want them to have a deep, inner feeling that it’s alright to be happy, that you don’t have to be constantly manufacturing problems that you don’t really have.

A lot of my life lessons were learned as a child gambler on the boardwalk. 

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 mine.