The Nominee: Jack Nicholson

Chinatown

Where does one begin to talk about Jack Nicholson?  His off-screen persona is just as famous as his on-screen one.  He’s made many films over his long and storied career and he’s played some wacky, wonderful and unforgettable characters.  When I think of him, I don’t think first of any particular role he’s played or about a certain film he’s been in.  Rather, I picture him sitting courtside at a Lakers game, wearing dark shades and hollering at the players, cheering and smiling from ear-to-ear.  Good ‘ol smiling Jack.  That’s the Nicholson that first comes to mind for me.

I think, too, of the mischievous, beguiling devil he played in The Witches of Eastwick.  When I first saw the film, I remember thinking that perhaps Jack Nicholson is a little bit like his character Daryl Van Horne.  He seems wild at heart and mischievous thanks to his sly grin, arched eyebrow, signature drawl and the ever-present twinkle in his eye, and he’s never had trouble with the ladies.

Some might think about the dark, serious and even scary roles Nicholson’s played over the years.  There was violent Jack in films like The Postman Always Rings Twice in which he played a drifter plotting murder with Jessica Lange, The Departed where he played a ruthless mob boss and A Few Good Men where he played the intimidating, hard-nosed Col. Nathan R. Jessup.  The dark, violent and intimidating roles are ones that Nicholson appears to absolutely relish and savor maybe because that old adage is true – it’s fun being bad.

Then there was classic Jack with iconic films such as Chinatown, Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces.  Crazy Jack got to let loose in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining.   Sensitive Jack appeared in films like Terms of Endearment, Ironweed, As Good As It Gets and About Schmidt to show that he could play vulnerable and damaged characters just as effectively as he could tough and scary ones.  

He’s proven in several films that he can be funny in comedies too.  We witnessed funny Jack in films like Anger Management, Something’s Gotta Give and The Bucket List.  And finally, there’s lovable bad guy Jack in films like Prizzi’s Honor, Hoffa and Wolf, where you find yourself rooting for him over the good guy because the character he has created is more interesting than the boring ‘ol good guys.

The most memorable of Nicholson’s lovable bad guys has got to be The Joker in Batman.  His magnetism as a person and an actor along with his irascible charm and unique characterizations made watching him as The Joker fascinating.  His charm, confidence and devilish visage made The Joker a captivating character that still reverberates with audiences today.

Jack Nicholson is an undisputed screen icon with literally dozens of acting accolades to his name.  Because of his accomplishments and notoriety, he has been the subject of numerous imitators and impressions.  Christian Slater has mimicked his acting style and stand-up comedians have done many Jack Nicholson bits, and the best part is that he is notorious for enjoying it.  One thing is for certain, no matter how many imitators or impressions there are of Nicholson, he has established himself as one of the all-time great actors and though he has been imitated, he can never be replaced.