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Film

Jack Nicholson names the movie highlight of his life

From Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining to R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, American actor Jack Nicholson is accepted as one of the most celebrated actors ever to walk the silver screen. Though he has now retired from acting, he remains recognised as one of the most iconic and influential actors of the 20th century, lending his talents to everything from independent projects to big-budget blockbusters.

Enjoying a fruitful career spanning over half a century, Nicholson worked with the biggest names in the industry, including Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Michelangelo Antonioni, Roman Polanski and Miloš Forman. Bowing out from acting in 2010, it was the unlikely movie How Do You Know, starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson, that would mark his final foray into the world of cinema.

A bold, counter-cultural figurehead, Nicholson earned a (joint) record of 12 Oscar nominations during his career, winning three for his performances in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets. Yet, whilst he held a tight grip over the Academy, fascinatingly, the legacy he leaves behind is one that remembers him as an individual on the periphery of the industry, as an ever-eclectic creative. 

One of his most subversive roles was in his breakout movie, Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper, saw Nicholson play an eccentric dope-smoking lawyer, a character whose morals were wedged in between the stiff establishment and the progressive bohemian subculture which thrived in the late 1960s. 

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His role in the iconic movie would later become a highlight of his life, telling The Talks that the film’s first screening was something of an epiphany in his early career. 

Asked about the best moments of his life in Hollywood, Nicholson responded, “The first screening of Easy Rider in Cannes, because I had been there before sneaking around. When I was sitting in the screening I realised that I was actually going to be a movie star”. 

Appearing at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969, Hopper won the award for Best Debut and was even nominated for a Palme d’Or, only to lose out to the Lindsay Anderson movie, If… starring Malcolm McDowell. 

“When I was over there I was pretty much already thinking about directing because I had been doing movies for 10 or 12 years by then,” Nicholson explained, adding, “Everybody said I was good, but being known and not having a big film success is almost tougher than being completely new. It just kind of turned my life around and was definitely a highlight”. 

Nicholson went on to direct Drive, He Said in 1971, Goin’ South in 1978 and The Two Jakes in 1990, with the latter featuring Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Stowe, Meg Tilly and Eli Wallach, being the most popular of his directorial efforts.

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