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Jack Nicholson at 75 - His career in quotes

Yahoo UK Movies Features

Jack Nicholson at 75 - His career in quotes

Happy birthday Jack Nicholson! To celebrate his 75th birthday, we’ve collated some quotes from the man as we go through his 50-year career.

“Because you know, down deep in my heart, when all is said and done, I still live under the illusion that basically people think of me as an up-and-coming young actor.”


Jack Nicholson is 75 this weekend (22 April to be precise) so to celebrate we’ve gathered some of his greatest quotes, be it from the man himself or one of his characters – each with a film from his illustrious career. Back when Jack was an actual “up-and-coming young actor” his breakout role was a small one in 1969 classic ‘Easy Rider’ alongside Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The role earned him his first Oscar nomination.

[ Related gallery: Jack Nicholson's career in pictures]

“Once you've been really bad in a movie, there's a certain kind of fearlessness you develop.”

Fearlessness is a quality Nicholson would later be well-known for, and as he explains himself it takes a few stinkers to get there. In an interview the actor said, in reference to his 1970 film ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’, “All I am in the movie is bad.” Pretty damning. Following the film, however, his career was about to sky-rocket.

“In my last year of school, I was voted Class Optimist and Class Pessimist. Looking back, I realise I was only half right.” 

Later in 1970 Nicholson starred in ‘Five Easy Pieces’, for which he received his second Academy Award nomination, this time as the lead. Two years on from his loss at the ceremony held in 1971, he was nominated again for ‘The Last Detail’. His fellow nominees were acting royalty - Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert Redford. It was Jack Lemmon who took the prize however, for ‘Save the Tiger’.

“I know I can act. There aren't too many other jobs I know how to do.”

Another year, another nomination and another loss. Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown’ provided Nicholson with his biggest and best role to date. Speaking of working with Polanski, Nicholson remarked, “Every director implored me, ‘Jack, can't you talk a little bit faster?’ It was like a hot button for me and I would become hateful. So when Roman started to say it, I began and he said, ‘Jack, this movie is 100-and-something pages long. To have a movie that is screen-able, you'll have to talk a little faster.’”

“In this industry, there are only two ways up the ladder. Rung by rung or claw your way to the top. It's sure been tough on my nails.”


Nicholson’s greatest role came in 1975 in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and he received his fourth Oscar nomination in five years. He was rewarded with the prize (the first of three for the actor) but it could never really have gone to anyone else as he turns in an all-time classic acting performance, that always ranks among the best ever recorded on film.

“A star on a movie set is like a time bomb. That bomb has got to be defused so people can approach it without fear.”


In ‘The Shining’ he played a character created by Stephen King but turned into an icon by the tag team of Nicholson and his director Stanley Kubrick. His second truly classic performance ensured he would be remembered as one of the greats.

“When I read the part, I knew I'd win the Oscar for it.”

Oscar win number two came with
‘Terms of Endearment’ in 1983. He played former astronaut Garrett Breedlove (nice surname) who was basically an exaggerated version of the man himself. Probably Jack at his most charming, he brought enough dramatic chops to earn himself a little gold statuette.


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

Playing an iconic role such as the Joker made Nicholson himself more iconic. The comic book villain brings its own pressures though as there are fans to please, material to do justice to and a need as an actor to add your own twist. Jack did all this in Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ and made the Joker an iconic movie villain in the process. “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

“It was one of the few times when it was money well spent.”

As Colonel Nathan R. Jessop, Jack Nicholson is nothing short of a powerhouse in 1992’s ‘A Few Good Men’. He knows it too, the above quote comes from the man in reference to the $5 million he earned for the film. Out of all the films he’s made, two lines of dialogue stick out - it’s debateable whether “Here’s Johnny!” from ‘The Shining’ or “You can’t handle the truth!” from ‘A Few Good Men’ is the better known quote.

“Well, a girlfriend once told me never to fight with anybody you don't love.”

At the time this certainly wasn’t the kind of film you’d have put Nicholson down for, but even in an unfamiliar genre (that of the Rom Com) he still pulled out all the stops in ‘As Good as it Gets’. It’s a schmaltz-laden film that Nicholson makes far more bearable. His reward? An unlikely Oscar win on the night ‘Titanic’ dominated.

“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 [couple of] years' worth of comedies.”

Says it all really. The comedies he’s referring to are ’About Schimdt’ (2002), ‘Anger Management’ (2003) and ‘Something's Gotta Give’ (2003).

“I don’t wanna be a product of my environment…I want my environment to be a product of me.”

Opening lines don’t get much better, or much cooler, than that. It sets up Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ perfectly and he wasn’t even on screen. When he was though he had the undeniable presence and gravitas of a highly regarded actor. In a film swimming with talent and potential scene-stealers, he stood out tallest despite the high quality of his co-workers. He was BAFTA nominated for his supporting role.

“With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and 60.”

Nicholson has only been in one film ( ‘How Do You Know’) since 2007’s ‘The Bucket List’ and it was hardly remarkable. It’s been two years since that film, putting Nicholson in a sort of semi-retirement (though not an official retirement). If he is done with the business then it’s a shame his last film wasn’t the unexpected hit ‘The Bucket List’. It stars himself and Morgan Freeman as terminally ill men who flee a hospital to make their way through a list of things before they die. It’s funny, sweet, emotional and would have been a great swansong for a legendary actor.