Jack Nicholson is counted among the greatest acting talents by many fans, especially due to his incredibly powerful work on popular masterpieces such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining among many others. A true icon who has been described as a “cultural touchstone”, Nicholson’s cinematic legacy is incredibly influential for aspiring artists.
When he was starting out in the film industry, Nicholson was offered an entry-level job as an animator by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera but he was determined to become an actor. Nicholson went on to star in multiple projects but at one point, he felt as if his acting career would not take him anywhere which is why he tried his hand at screenwriting.
Of course, Nicholson later managed to establish himself as one of the greatest acting talents of his time over the course of an illustrious career and there was one influence who was guiding him all along – Marlon Brando. According to Nicholson, he was part of the first generation of Brando fans and he found the icon’s screen presence “mesmerising”.
In a tribute published by Rolling Stone, Nicholson wrote: “Marlon Brando is one of the great men of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and we lesser mortals are obligated to cut through the shit and proclaim it.” Recalling his formative years, Nicholson described how he saw On the Waterfront twice every night and was deeply moved by Brando.
As a child, Nicholson did not recognise the unique approach to method acting that Brando incorporated into his work but he had a feeling that Brando was unapologetically unique and everyone around him knew it too. Even though many other actors have become famous for their method acting, Nicholson insists that nobody comes close to Brando.
“Other actors don’t go around discussing who is the best actor in the world, because it’s obvious – Marlon Brando is,” Nicholson declared. He even turned down the opportunity to star in The Godfather because his character did not have any common scene with Brando and he decided to wait for a project like The Missouri Breaks instead.
However, working on The Missouri Breaks turned out to be an incredibly difficult experience for Nicholson since he was psychologically intimidated by the opportunity. Before that, he had been building up the idea of working with Brando on a film but it was a different story when he got around to it.
“I was totally annihilated by him,” Nicholson recalled while writing about how Brando’s knowledge of his craft overwhelmed him. In fact, Nicholson also claimed that he would not know what to say to those who did not acknowledge the greatness of Brando because they were missing something that was painfully obvious.
Due to Nicholson’s meteoric rise, he was able to actually live beside his childhood idol on Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills which was nicknamed the ‘Bad Boy Drive’ because it housed the likes of Nicholson, Brando and Warren Beatty. When Brando passed away, Nicholson ended up buying his house and planting frangipani flowers in remembrance of the icon.
In his article, Nicholson argued that Brando was the best actor in the world because he didn’t just shine in the great films but he also managed to bring something of value to the projects that did not do so well. “Almost everything the guy ever did, in my opinion, was revolutionary, Nicholson added. “To me, Marlon Brando was the greatest ever. That’s a truth I hold to be self-evident.”
Commenting on Brando’s extensive filmography, Nicholson noted that the apotheosis of Brando’s career might have been On the Waterfront but his work as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar was also vastly influential for American actors who adapted Shakespeare. For Nicholson, Brando exists in the same bracket of greatness as Picasso.
He declared: “As an artist, I equate Brando with Picasso. I’ve seen Picasso’s early drawings and so forth in the museums in Barcelona. I always thought if you took the first thing Picasso ever drew and continued to show everything he did until the day he died, you would see that some people are incapable of not being brilliant.”