There’s a great photo of Jack Nicholson taken by Annie Liebovitz around 1992 showing the actor driving golf balls off his roof in a bathroom robe, glaring at the camera with almost murderous intent. This is the kind of image most of us associate with the notoriously misanthropic Nicholson: carefree, intimidating, reckless and insolent. So when reports were circulating in the media last week that the three time Academy Award winner had decided to retire from cinema due to a growing difficulty to memorise his lines something seemed amiss; the golf ball-whacking, photographer-menacing Nicholson would never have laid bare such a humbling weakness.
It was therefore no surprise when Nicholson fervently denied these allegations earlier this week in a characteristically glib interview, stating that he has a “mathematician’s brain” and that he’s still very much in good health. Nicholson, who hasn’t made a film since the widely derided How Do You Know in 2010, attacked the dearth of high quality scripts presented to him in recent years and has claimed that he plans to only make emotional films for the remainder of his career, noting that he had a “chilling thought” that young adults no longer go to see films to be moved. Yet despite this bold statement of intent to continue his widely heralded career, Nicholson was in reflective form, making it explicitly clear that “[he wouldn’t act until the day he died]” before lamenting his waning appeal as a septuagenarian bachelor: “There were points in my life when I felt oddly irresistible to women. I’m not in that state now, which makes me sad”.
Nicholson’s apparent decision to be selective and dedicate himself solely to films of a high standard should be seen as a rather admirable position given the tendency of other actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, whose halcyon days are long past them, to indulge in almost any paying job no matter how woefully poor. His last majorly applauded performance, in Martin Scorsese’s sublime The Departed, was commanding, sinister and typically charismatic, arguably as strong as any of his prior (unrivalled) twelve Oscar nominations; yet seven years and only two films later, questions may be asked as to whether Hollywood’s enfant terrible can still manage to draw in the crowds and achieve critical acclaim in the way that Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood have been able to in their late seventies. If recent precedent is anything to go by however, it may be a long time to wait before we have answers.