Jack Nicholson wasn’t particularly good looking, muscular or indeed an early screen success story when he won his colourful, breakthrough supporting role, at the age of 32, in Dennis Hopper’s 1969′s road-trip classic Easy Rider. But his remarkable presence in that film and future prominent roles in Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, The Last Detail, and Chinatown along with his Oscar winning turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest subsequently cemented him as one of the finest leading actors of the era.
Some 40 years (and 40 odd films… including iconic turns in The Shining, Batman, A Few Good Men and The Departed) later, even in semi-retirement, the legendary 73 year old with the killer grin, is still considered an undisputed king of the screen. And here are 50 reasons why I think he could just be the greatest living actor today.
Jack Nicholson is one of the most charismatic actors in the business. His defiantly non-conformist and rebellious attitude is deeply woven into each one of his roles and his charisma simply bleeds off the screen.
2. A Triple Oscar Winner
Nominated a whopping 12 times (more than any other actor) and alongside Walter Brennan, Nicholson is one of only two actors ever to have taken home the golden statue three times; first for his tour de force as R.P McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, secondly for a supporting award for his cheeky portrayal of retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment in 1983 and, then, in 1997 he won again for lead as OCD misanthrope Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets.
3. George Hanson in Easy Rider (1969)
The role that finally brought Jack to the attention of mainstream audiences and a ticket to the big time was as a drunken but wry small-town lawyer in Dennis Hopper’s counterculture classic Easy Rider. He’s so good here he completely snatches scenes shared with his trippy co-stars; most prominently getting all philosophical round a campfire in this classic scene:
4. Has Worked in Every Genre
Displaying his versatility as an actor Nicholson has worked in just about every conceivable genre. From thrillers, comedies and dramas to crime films, westerns, horror films, sci-fis, adventure, war movies, road movies, romance and action films, biopics, gangster films and (with the oddity that is On A Clear Day You Can See Forever), even musicals.
In order to be successful in this business it helps to have a fearless streak in you. Nicholson knows what he wants and takes it. But it’s his fearlessness as an actor that has produced some of his greatest screen performances. From the close to insanity extremes of working with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining, to happily prancing around spectacularly to Prince in Batman or pranking about with a black dildo in The Departed – there’s nothing, it seems, Jack is afraid of doing.
This article was first posted on March 19, 2011