Jack Nicholson, “What I’ve Learned”, December 28, 2007

Esquire magazine, Jack Nicholson

Photo by Esquire Magazine 

I’ve been a fan of Jack Nicholson’s movies for years.  Most of the best movies I’ve seen have featured him as a lead or a supporting actor.  However, I’m not one of those people who idealizes entertainers and I know little of Jack’s personal life/likes other than what stares at you from the checkout counters of supermarkets.  I just don’t care about their personal lives or philosophies.  I simply want to be entertained.  I found the below opinions by Jack in an article in Esquire magazine entitled “What I’ve learned.”  It is, of itself, very entertaining and a glimpse into a character, who although is diametrically opposed to what I believe, I was pleasantly surprised to find some kinship with the man.  Maybe it’s my penchant for admiring people who are genuine, agree with them or not.  I just can’t abide by people who’re full of shit.  Anyways, I’ve pasted the article here but you can read it from the source at:


“They’re prescription. That’s why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you’ve experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can’t look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can’t emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor. 

I hate advice unless I’m giving it.  

I hate giving advice, because people won’t take it. 

I love discourse. I’m dying to have my mind changed. I’m probably the only liberal who read Treason, by Ann Coulter. I want to know, you understand? I like listening to everybody. This to me is the elixir of life. 

I don’t think many people have a very good understanding of leisure and the importance it plays in our lives. People today are too competitive about leisure, as if it needs to have some other value in order to be able to fit into our puritanical view of the world. But if you’re playing golf to get a loan, it ain’t golf, you know what I mean? 

I was particularly proud of my performance as the Joker. I considered it a piece of pop art. 

The camera photographs what’s there. 

Right now, I’m upset because I was supposed to have the weekend to play golf. I just flnished, like, two straight years of work. I thought I’d take some time for myself. I flgured that this weekend I’d be able to get out there on the golf course. And then, boom! There goes my hamstring. And here’s the rub: Rather than just give myself a break and say, “Okay, you have every excuse in the world to lay on your ass this weekend and watch the ball games,” I have to be a Calvinist. I have to complain: “Son of a bitch! I’m here. I’m inside. When’s the hammie gonna get better? I’ve already tested it too early and hurt it again. How long is it gonna take to heal? Have I already ruined the next two weeks?” 

After September 11, I held my tongue. All of the public positions had been taken — for, against, good, evil. I had nothing more to add. So I thought, Bring in the clowns, you know what I mean? That’s why I’ve done a coupla years’ worth of comedies. 

I’m pretty well ashamed of this, but I only read the sports pages. 

The fuel for the sports fan is the ability to have private theories. I’ve always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn’t the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. I always said, “Batman and basketball. Night games and night comics.” Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going.  

I’m the age where we didn’t have television as kids. So when I saw my nieces and nephews watching Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and so forth, I thought the world had gone mad.  

If you think about those old shows, they all had puppets. And somehow I think, symbolically speaking, that has contributed to a generational lack of ability to accept personal responsibility. It’s why the baby boomers are such conspiracy theorists and I’m not. It’s why everybody thinks we went to Iraq to get the oil and I don’t. I see that as a minor, symbolic generational difference that all adds up to mass movements. People are so frustrated. They don’t want to take responsibility for their failures. There’s always an excuse, you know? It’s always, “I’m this and that’s why” or “This happened to me and that’s why.” Everyone has the impulse to point their fingers elsewhere. They point at the puppet: He did it! Not me!  

I always hesitate to say things like this in interviews because they tend to come back to haunt you, but if I were an Arab-American, I would insist on being profiled. This is not the time for civil rights. There are larger issues for Americans. 

Lately, I’ve been de-emphasizing what actors think of as character work. The limps and the lisps, the accents — I don’t want to be bothered. You gotta make it come from the inside. It’s all about who you are. That’s all you can really contribute. I feel autobiographical about whatever I do.

 I was talking to Sean Penn on the phone today. I told him it was interesting that they managed to leave me off this long list of Method actors they’d published in some article. I told him, “I’m still fooling them!” I consider it an accomplishment. Because there’s probably no one who understands Method acting better academically than I do, or actually uses it more in his work. But it’s funny — nobody really sees that. It’s perception versus reality, I suppose. 

Believe it or not, I supported Richard Nixon on the issue of presidential privilege. How could anyone conceive of being the president of the United States and think that every single thing that you say or do can become a part of the public record? It just seems so stupid to me. A man needs a private life. With no ability to have a private life, one thing leads to another, and before you know it we have Bill and Monica. We need to get real about things. Humans are humans. Why should we expect more? 

My motto is: more good times. 

I think I’ve done okay. I take responsibility for my successes as well as my failures. But when I look at my professional mistakes, I’m always left with the feeling that maybe I should have done more. These are my private musings. I’m such a perfectionist. I always feel overpraised or whatever. In the abstract, I know I’m a good person, a good professional. But it’s nice to be noticed a little bit, ain’t it? 

I’m certainly not as tough as people think. I’m not a fighter and so forth. I’d just as soon go home.  

Children give your life a resonance that it can’t have without them. 

I certainly knew my father. He just didn’t happen to be my biological father. 

That is correct: I didn’t know that my sister was really my mother until I was thirty-seven years old. But life has taught me that there have been a lot of things that I didn’t know. If I start giving that more weight because of the half-digested view of an analytical life, it’s working against you, you know what I mean? Accentuate the positive, that’s what I say. It’s a trick, but it works. 

Here’s another old actor saying: It’s very easy to go down, so always live up. Incline yourself upward. 

I’d prefer if people had no impressions of me. As a kid, I had to tell my own family, “Please, just don’t talk about me!” Because they always got it wrong. Always. I just didn’t want them to tell anyone anything about me. God knew, they had a great opinion and they loved me and meant well, but it was like, Please, you don’t have this right. You know what I mean?

 Men dominate because of physicality, and thus they have mercy where women do not. 

When it’s over for a woman, it’s over. You’re not getting an appeal. 

There’s a tacit agreement in the nation today that the white male is the only legitimate target for any and all satire, criticism, and so forth. And we pretty much just accept it. 

A lot of people in the middle of their lives have a secret yearning for more romance. 

I don’t know if this is a true statistic, but I heard somewhere that there are three times as many single women over forty as single men. That’s what we got from the women’s movement. The chickens have come home to roost. 

I respect the social graces enormously. How to pass the food. Don’t yell from one room to another. Don’t go through a closed door without a knock. Open the doors for the ladies. All these millions of simple household behaviors make for a better life. We can’t live in constant rebellion against our parents — it’s just silly. I’m very well mannered. It’s not an abstract thing. It’s a shared language of expectations. 

If I had to list the most prominent highlights in my life over the last decade or more, the things I’d write would pretty much involve moments with my children. You know how it goes: They write an essay or a poem and your heart is in your throat. They give such stunning love. Lorraine won her soccer tournament. Ray is becoming a big guy. Jennifer has her own boutique; it’s called Pearl. She’s also designing clothes. I have to tell you, I did more glad-handing and arm twisting for Jennifer’s fashion show than I’ve ever done for any picture of my own. That’s what you’re driven to do when you have kids. 

I have to keep myself in check when I go to the kids’ sports events. I sit waaay in the back. I make sure I don’t do too much cheering, you know what I mean? I’m still not quite adjusted to this modern school of thought: Oh, it doesn’t matter who wins. I’m not all the way there yet, but I accept it from the back row. 

I think the Greeks invented sports as an antidote to philosophy. In sports there are absolute rules. It’s not, What about this? What about that? Either you’re safe or you’re out. It’s ten yards or it’s not. It’s in the hoop or out of the hoop. It’s certain. 

I’ve grown out of talking like I know something when I don’t. I’m a pretty liberal Democrat, but I’m not after Bush the way all the rest of them are. I was alive in World War II. We turned off all the lights, as if people might come running up the beach. In that climate, what else were you going to do? We didn’t have a choice then. And we don’t really have one now. I don’t know what else Bush can do. We just have to see how it goes. 

Why can’t somebody use modern intelligence and relate it to traffic? 

What would it be like to fuck Britney Spears? I can answer that question: monumental. Life altering! 

My daughter is thirteen. Lately, all I’ve been thinking about is, Would you please get a pair of pants that’s not, you know, down below your navel? What do I do well as a father? I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love. And I have a lot of skills in terms of getting them to express themselves. I’m good with handy hints — if they can tell me what their problem is — ’cause I’ve had a lot of problems in life myself. I make an effort to expose them to things. I want them to have a deep, inner feeling that it’s all right to be happy, that you don’t have to be constantly manufacturing problems that you don’t really have.  

A lot of my life lessons were learned as a child gambler on the boardwalk. 

I resist all established beliefs. My religion basically is to be immediate, to live in the now. It’s an old cliche, I know, but it’s mine. 

I envy people of faith. I’m incapable of believing in anything supernatural. So far, at least. Not that I wouldn’t like to. I mean, I want to believe. I do pray. I pray to something…up there. I have a God sense. It’s not religious so much as superstitious. It’s part of being human, I guess. 

Do unto others: How much deeper into religion do we really need to go? 

I would never want to vilify somebody who considered abortion murder. I was an illegitimate child myself. I may not have existed today. 

Liberalism is the right to question without being called a heretic. That’s what America did for the world. 

There are major influences on us that people are not aware of. There are big lies that nobody’s willing to discuss. 

A question you always ask in acting is, Where were you going if this scene didn’t interrupt the movements of the character? 

For a long time, I was afraid to be alone. I had to learn how to be alone. And there are still times when I think, Uh-oh! I gotta talk to somebody here or I’m gonna go crazy! But I like to be alone. Now I do. I really do. There’s a big luxury in solitude.

A lot of times, you gotta be there even if you don’t wanna be. 

I was influenced in golf by a plaque I read in Kyoto, Japan. It’s on a wall of one of the temples. It tells about this Zen archery tournament that had been held there. It’s this long colonnade. At the end is a four-inch square. The participants would sit in a cross-legged position, and they’d have to shoot the arrows all the way without hitting the wall. And the world record in the event was something like 180 straight arrows. Knowing sports in the poetic way that I do, this impressed me. So I started thinking of golf as Zen archery.

 I don’t play golf competitively. I tell everybody that I cheat so they won’t gamble with me. That’s why you can’t watch football. Everybody’s gambling. They don’t want to watch the game; they watch the spread.  

I get peevish, sure. Nobody yells or screams any more than I do. But the toughest days are when I get home and realize, Holy shit! They were right! Oy, I’m an asshole! And this happens at least once or twice every picture, where you’re just — you’re just so sure, you’re such a big-time guy, you know what I mean? And then you get home and you have that moment of holy shit. The pro game of acting is very difficult. You go into that editing room and there is empirical evidence of what you’ve done. And no matter how good they say you are, well over half of what you do is pure shit. You can be totally self-annihilating about it if you want. 

I love working with women directors. They don’t mind making you cute. 

I’m very fortunate in the sense that outside of cohabitating relationships and so forth, I’ve always got on just as well with women. 

I always ask myself a theoretical question: If I had started out today, would I have wound up doing porn pictures to make a living? 

The less people know about me, the easier my job is. 

Always try in interviews to avoid the cliches about the problems of public life. 

Always try to avoid interviews.”