How Jack Nicholson saved Michael Caine’s acting career
Jack Nicholson is a man of many talents. An actor and filmmaker who has performed for over sixty years and sits comfortably on three Academy Awards, an achievement that makes him one of the most celebrated figures in Hollywood. He is undoubtedly one of the 20th century’s greatest leading men and most acclaimed stars and, it turns out, a motivational speaker too.
It was an exploration of the aforementioned talent that saw Nicholson pull off one of the biggest victories of his career, a time when he helped Michael Caine rescue his career and prevent him from retiring.
While Nicholson’s professional ability seemingly knows no bounds, his off-camera personality has garnered more than its fair share of rumours, headlines and urban myths over the years. The constant and remaining factor, however, is that everybody, it seems, loves Jack Nicholson.
Michael Caine, Nicholson’s close friend and British counterpart, is a cinematic industry figure that owes his colleague in more ways than one. Well into his 80s now and still working on numerous projects, South Londoner Caine grew disillusioned with Hollywood and all the drama, workload and stress that came with it. What’s more, Caine’s upward trajectory had seemingly peaked and a new path was needed.
In his memoir, the actor remembers, “The scripts not only dried up, they started looking hurtfully different. One of the lowest moments of my career—or so it seemed at the time—was that day I was sent the script in which, the producers had to spell out to me, I was to read the father, not the lover. My first reaction to the revelation that I was too old to play the romantic lead (I was about sixty) was that my acting career was over and I was going to have to radically reinvent ‘success.'”
Having claimed his two Oscar victories and cemented his place in history, Caine resided back in London and took a major step away from the limelight while he considered his future. Working predominantly as a restaurateur, Caine owned five high profile establishments across Mayfair, South Beach Brasserie in Miami and more as the 1990s drifted away as he looked to call time on his acting career. That was, of course, until Nicholson intervened.
Reflecting on his close call with retirement, Caine remembered: “I was even happier when Jack Nicholson, a wonderful actor, who was also in Miami at the time, persuaded me that the reinvention did not have to be so extreme,” in an excerpt from his memoir reported by EW.
“Why not simply reinvent myself as a movie actor, as opposed to a movie star? A character actor, rather than a leading actor? (What’s the difference? Well, essentially it’s this. When movie stars get a script they want to do, they change it to suit them. When leading movie actors get a script they want to do, they change themselves to suit the script.)”
Knowing the big-chested Brit’s response it will come as no surprise that’s exactly what Caine did, joining Nicholson on the 1996 neo-noir thriller Blood and Wine and, reminiscing about his time on set with Nicholson, Caine fondly explained: “We were strolling towards the set when suddenly a cry went up: ‘The sun’s going! Hurry up, we’re losing the light!’ Everybody started dashing around, so I broke into a run too – until Jack held me back and said ‘Don’t run because they’ll know it’s us who’s late.’ That sums up his whole character in one line.”
Given Nicholson’s infamous reputation with the ladies, Caine also offered some advice on how to prepare for a night out with the iconic actor: “Wear old clothes and heavy-toed boots, because you’ll get trampled by women trying to get to Jack.” It’s a kindly reminder that no matter your status you’re always second best to Jack Nicholson.
See a clip of Caine discussing his relationship with Nicholson, below.