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Music

The acting advice Jack Nicholson gave to Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger, as we all know him, is the tenacious and ever-energetic frontman of The Rolling Stones. Fewer of us, however, will be aware that the singer’s penchant for film has boiled over into a number of prominent acting and administrative roles in popular movies over the last six decades.  

One of the earliest and most notable examples of Jagger’s involvement in cinema was his starring role in Donald Cammell’s crime drama Performance. The critically acclaimed film was polarising upon its release due to its conceited delve into sadism and depravity. However, over the decades following its 1970 release, the movie has been heralded as a legendary, if obscure, accomplishment. At the time of its release, the film was divisive and caused shock among the more sheltered audiences – this was portrayed beautifully by the wife of a Warner Brothers executive, who allegedly vomited out of sheer disgust during an early screening of the film.

In the 1970s, Jagger was intensely involved in the production process for most of the Rolling Stones films. Most famously, he worked on Cocksucker Blues, which was directed by Robert Frank and chronicled the Stones’ notorious 1972 American tour. The film was controversial upon its release as the content was deemed as embarrassing and potentially incriminating — I’d say, cut them some slack, they’re a rock band after all!

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Throughout the mid-to-late-1970s, Jagger was cast in several smaller acting roles but tended to involve himself as a producer. In the 1990s, Jagger’s career in film career gained some traction as he appeared in more prominent roles in films, including Freejack (1992), Bent (1997), and The Man From Elysian Fields (2002). In 1995, he also founded his own production company, Jagged Films, alongside Victoria Pearman. The company’s first release was the successful World War II drama Enigma (2002), which starred Kate Winslet as one of the famous Bletchley Park codebreakers.

A few years ago, Jagger put out some feelers within the industry and revealed that he was looking for a final acting role. The rockstar had his wish granted and he was cast in the small but memorable role of, Joseph Cassidy, a wealthy art collector with a sinister agenda in 2019’s The Burnt Orange Heresy, a thriller shot on Lake Como, Italy.

Speaking in a recent interview with The Guardian, Jagger was asked how it felt to be acting again after more than a decade without a serious role. “Er, well it was a bit odd to be honest,” says Jagger. “I hadn’t done any for ages. I was like: ‘Oh. Um. Yes. Acting. Let’s think now. How do we do this?’ I once asked Jack Nicholson, ‘When you build a character, where do you start?’ He said, ‘His sex life,’” he chuckled.

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Jokes aside, Nicholson had an important point, the key to acting well comes through intense background mapping of your character. “It may not necessarily fit with the script but it’s good to have,” Jagger continued. “Otherwise, you’re just saying the lines. And you don’t wanna just say the lines. Well, you can, but it’s better if you know what sort of person he is. I made notes about whether the guy was married, what his schooling was like. Was he a crook? Did he like rugby? The usual stuff. It’s all quite funny but if you’re going to do a job, you might as well do it properly.”

The film’s director Giuseppe Capotondi applauded Jagger’s commitment to his role in The Burnt Orange Heresy. In an interview with The Guardian, he said, “Mick really did his homework. He said, ‘Maybe the character should speak with a Chelsea accent but from the days before Chelsea became posh, back when it was still working-class.’ That all came from him. He also spoke to a few of his gallerist friends to understand how the market works.”

In one of the intense scenes, Jagger’s character, Cassidy, suddenly flips from his gentle veneer to reveal his evil side in just a few words. Discussing the scene, Capotondi continued to praise Jagger’s work: “He managed to change tone there, all while sitting down and smoking his electronic cigarette. He’s very effective. Mick can convey emotions without doing much. Most of his acting is done with his voice rather than his face. It can be giggly then very deep. He uses it as an instrument, and that’s a plus for any actor.”

Watch Mick Jagger discuss his role in The Burnt Orange Heresy below.

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