A conversation with Jack Nicholson meanders in the best way possible. References to philosopher Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin somehow dovetail seamlessly with anecdotes about John Huston and Katherine Heigl. Such is the life and mind of a true American original.
In part one of our interview with Nicholson , the 70-year-old actor expounded on his admiration and support for Senator Hillary Clinton. Here, in the concluding section of our conversation, Nicholson talks about political aspirations for himself and his longtime friend Warren Beatty, what category he’s frustrated with at the Oscars, and his personal connection to the tragic death of Heath Ledger.
MTV: We’ve been talking a lot about the political process, and I’m surprised to hear you as optimistic as you are.
Jack Nicholson: Absolutely. I believe in the whole process pretty firmly. Democracy is a new thing in civilization. This march of humanity towards freedom is an ongoing thing. My favorite guy never ran for office, Benjamin Franklin. And he was for staying for [part of] England! He came around late. You have to be ready to change your mind. We were wrong on global warming. We were wrong on dope. The only guy that ever agreed with me on [legalizing] dope was William F. Buckley. And that shocked me so deeply, I couldn’t believe it. [He laughs.] I like to reduce things down. One of the things you can do to solve energy is solve traffic. We burn so much gasoline sitting at traffic lights! But this is so far removed from the presidency. Let’s get away from demographics and a bit more towards a meritocracy.
MTV: Have you ever considered running for public office?
Nicholson: I like my job.
MTV: You’ve never considered it for a second?
Nicholson: If you’re probing my fantasies, I always wanted to be the older friend of the president who would give them a different slant on the news of the day.
MTV: Your good friend Warren Beatty seemed to seriously consider running for office in the past.
Nicholson: If he ever did, of course, I’d support him, but in private counsel I remind him we have the best job. Politics has been in Warren’s blood from childhood on. He’s much more socially connected with politicians than me. I wish they’d stop calling us “Hollywood nitwits.” They can’t get along without us. We’ve got our share of nitwits. I’ve been called a “woolly headed intellectual,” neither of which is accurate. I only wish I was woolly headed.
MTV: Did you have a good time at the Oscars ?
Nicholson: Yes, it’s very relaxing when you’re not nominated.
MTV: You’re kind of the living, breathing embodiment of the Oscars at this point. Did its lackluster ratings sadden you in any way?
Nicholson: It doesn’t sadden me. I like the spirit of the Oscars. I think what happened this year was the Oscars had an indigenous quality. The acting categories were tremendous. The pictures themselves were not necessarily pictures that the public connected with. I like the Oscars because it’s not exactly the way I want it. [He laughs.] It’s basically good for everybody. Every kind of actor is represented in there. I do think there are too many other awards shows. There are too many self-congratulations.
MTV: Is there anything wrong with the ceremony itself?
Nicholson: For instance, the song in my picture [“The Bucket List”], John [Mayer]’s song [“Say”], was a very good song. As far as the show goes, I don’t know how they get the song nominees! You could make a living lampooning them. There are always good songs in the movies. I don’t know how they get to that list. That I can criticize. If you’re going to have musical numbers, let’s get some good songs.
MTV: I just hope they don’t flip the emergency switch with the Oscars because of the poor ratings. The Oscars should remain as they are, shouldn’t they?
Nicholson: Yes. I once asked Mr. [John] Huston why he was very ardent for them, and he said something that covers it for me: “Out of respect for those who came before me.”
MTV: Did any of the young talent on display there impress you?
Nicholson: I like Katherine Heigl. I liked “Knocked Up.” She’s an up-and-coming female. I thought Casey Affleck was tremendous in [“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”]. We made a lot of good films in Hollywood this year. We just didn’t make that one. The Coen brothers are a couple guys I want to work with. Did they serve Cormac McCarthy at his best? I don’t know. Tommy Lee Jones, I’m crazy about him. His part was central in the book and not central in the movie. I vote for myself. That’s all I’ve learned. Early on in grammar school, I lost an election about a painting because I voted for the other guy. I said, “I’m not doing that anymore.”
MTV: Have you ever discussed working with the Coens?
Nicholson: We’ve talked. We’ve had some great meetings. I kind of razzed them as they walked by and said, “I’m waiting for you guys. Don’t you want to make any money?”
Nicholson: That was horrible. I had an Ambien experience. I don’t react well to sleeping pills. Someone said, “Try this, there’s no hangover.” And I got an emergency call in the middle of the night and had forgotten I’d taken one. I fell asleep at the wheel about a hundred yards from my house. A couple blocks in either direction and I’d have been in a really bad accident. When the news first came out and I heard [sleeping pills were involved] — I’ve tried to warn people.
MTV: Is there a lesson to be learned from what happened?
Nicholson: One of the things I’d know doctors would like is good feedback in their direction. If you do take a pill, have the presence of mind to check yourself out and see how it’s actually acting so you can give feedback to the medical person.
MTV: How long ago was your incident?
Nicholson: That’s got to be three or four years [ago]. I didn’t know Mr. Ledger, but the town is very sad on his behalf.
MTV: You’d never met him?
Nicholson: No, I’d never met him. I would have tried to have a fun talk with him about the Joker.
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