Circuit 3: Jack Nicholson


John Joseph “Jack” Nicholson was born on April 22, 1937 in New Jersey. Upon moving to Hollywood, Nicholson worked running errands for William Hanna and Jack Barbera, the famous animation giants, at their MGM studios. Wanting to pursue a career in acting, he declined an offer to work for them as an animation artist. His first film, The Cry Baby Killer (1958), was a low budget film produced by Roger Corman in which Nicholson played the titular character.  Corman would go on to direct Nicholson in a few more films, including his first memorable performance in Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

Over the next nine years, Nicholson’s acting career sputtered momentarily, and while taking on bit roles in B-films, he turned to writing and directing as well, writing both The Trip – directed by Corman and starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper – and Head – starring The Monkees (co-wrote). His breakthrough performance came in Easy Rider (1969), when a spot opened up for the role of whiskey-guzzling lawyer George Hanson. Aside from jump-starting his acting career, Nicholson received his first Academy Award nomination. He received his second Oscar nomination the following year for Five Easy Pieces (1970). He would receive two more Oscar nods for his performances in The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974) before going on to win his first Oscar for playing R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).cuckoo

His first major film of the 80s came in the Stanley Kubrick directed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980). He received his sixth Oscar nomination for his role in Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981) and went on to win his second Academy Award (this time in Supporting) for Terms of Endearment (1983). He received two more Oscar noms in the 80s for his achievements in Prizzi’s Honor (1985) and Ironweed (1987). Other notable films of his from the decade include The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), The Border (1982), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Broadcast News (1987), and Batman (1989), in which he played the villainous Joker.

His tenth Oscar nomination came for his portrayal of Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in A Few Good Men (1992). The same year, he received both a Golden Globe nomination as well as a Razzie nomination (says something about the HFPA) for his performance in Hoffa. His third Oscar victory came for his role in As Good as It Gets (1997), playing the obsessive neurotic author Melvin Udall.

Jack started the 21st century off by giving a much underrated performance in Sean Penn’s The Pledge (2001). His twelfth, and most recent, Oscar nomination came in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt (2002), in which he played a grieving widower questioning his life after his wife’s death. He gave another standout performance in Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture winning film, The Departed (2006), playing Irish mobster Frank Costello. His most recent film was James L. Brooks How Do You Know (2010), his third film with the director. He currently has no work scheduled according to IMDB.

His twelve Academy Award nominations (eight for Lead Actor and four for Supporting Actor) make Jack Nicholson the most nominated male actor in Academy history. His three wins tie him for second most with Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Walter Brennan, and Ingrid Bergman, and place him only one Oscar behind Katherine Hepburn for the most all time (4). Nicholson has presented the award for Best Picture eight times (1972, 1977, 1978, 1990, 1993, 2006, 2007 and 2013), including this most recent year, when he co-presented with first lady Michelle Obama, who appeared via satellite.

My Circuit 3 for Jack Nicholson films:

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  2. Chinatown (1974)
  3. Easy Rider (1969)

My Circuit 3 for Jack Nicholson performances:

  1.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  2. The Shining (1980)
  3. About Schmidt (2002) 

What are your three favorite/best Jack Nicholson films and performances? You can view his entire filmography here.