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Jack Nicholson names his three favourite directors of all time

One of the 20th century’s most iconic actors – and one of the most celebrated ever to walk the silver screen – the reverberations of Jack Nicholson’s remarkable career are still felt to this day. Now retired from acting, Nicholson’s roles as madman Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are remembered as some of cinema’s most revered characters. 

A bold, counter-cultural figurehead of cinema, Nicholson earned a (joint) record of 12 Oscar nominations during his career, winning three. Yet, 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. 

For a creative expression of Nicholson’s career as a performer, look no further than his breakout role in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider as an eccentric dope-smoking lawyer, bridging the gap between being a member of the stiff establishment and the progressive bohemian subculture that thrived in the late 20th century. As a result, much like Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton, Nicholson has established himself as a maverick emblem of the Hollywood golden age. 

From independent features to large Hollywood projects, Nicholson enjoyed a fruitful career spanning over half a century, working 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.

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Having influenced the shape of the industry since the late 1950s, Nicholson has an extraordinary appreciation for the art of filmmaking, with the author Dennis McDougal revealing the actor’s favourite directors of all time in the biography How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times. 

In a section where McDougal writes about how Nicholson was approached to help make the movie The Big Brass Ring, the last of Orson Welles’ written screenplays before his untimely death, the author expresses how the Citizen Kane filmmaker was one of the actor’s all-time favourites. Continuing, the writer further states, “Jack named Welles along with Akira Kurosawa and John Ford as his three all-time favourite directors”. 

Although Nicholson never got the opportunity to work with Welles as a director, the duo did star alongside each other in the 1971 movie A Safe Place with Tuesday Weld. Meanwhile, Kurosawa never departed from making Japanese movies, and the American filmmaker John Ford was too busy in his own creative bubble with the likes of James Stewart and John Wayne to ever consider the young Jack Nicholson. 

Take a look at the whole list of Nicholson’s favourite directors and check out the trailer for the Nicholson/Welles collaboration, A Safe Place, below.

Jack Nicholson’s three favourite directors:

  • John Ford
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • Orson Welles

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