In ‘How Do You Know,’ Jack Nicholson keeps moving forward like a 'shark'
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – Flanked by a trio of the freshest young actors in contemporary film, Jack Nicholson seems to relish his status as Hollywood’s resident lovable rogue.
Since his heyday as counterculture radical in landmark movies such as “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Nicholson has lived a high-profile playboy’s life and settled into a kind of elder rebel-emeritus status on screen, burnished by the patina of his bad-boy past and his three acting Oscars.
If there’s a mischievous twinkle in his eyes when he talks about his latest role as a “cuddly shark” in writer-director James L. Brooks’ “How Do You Know,” it is masked by his ubiquitous, signature shades. But when Nicholson talks about working again with Brooks or hanging out and acting with co-stars Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, there’s a weathered warmth in his voice that belies his hipster cool.
“It’s a privilege to work with Jim. He’s probably one of the best screenwriters in the world, and you just get great material and he can always cast wonderful actors. Just look at us all,” Nicholson said, gesturing grandly to his young co-stars during a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park hosted by Columbia Pictures.
With Brooks on one side and Witherspoon, Wilson and Rudd on the other, Nicholson held court in a sense as he talked about Brooks’ new romantic comedy. In it, he plays a deeply flawed father and sharky business mogul trying to balance his love for his son with his instincts for self-preservation. Nicholson’s bond with Brooks goes way back to his Oscar-winning performances in “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good As It Gets,” sandwiched between a memorable turn in “Broadcast News.” (Nicholson’s other Oscar, his first, came for Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1976.)
In “How Do You Know,” Nicholson is essentially in a supporting role – but one that fits him like a tailored suit. He plays Charles, an oily industrialist whose company is under federal investigation for fraud. Unfortunately, blame for Charles’ shady shenanigans falls on his decent but clueless son, George (Rudd), who recently took the corporate reins. As George’s life is falling apart, he stumbles into a romantic triangle with Witherspoon’s Lisa, an Olympic softball player in crisis at the end of her career, and Wilson’s Matty, a playboy pitcher for the Washington Nationals.
For his part, Nicholson’s charmingly caddish Charles occupies a subplot in which he hopes to help his son out of his legal jam while avoiding a lengthy, and well-deserved, prison sentence for himself.
“There are always different things that make parts difficult,” Nicholson said of his raffish character. “I’ve played a lot of bad or semi-bad people and you always have to be on the character’s side. I didn’t have any problem analyzing this character. It wasn’t really the tough part of it for me. I liked playing the father even though he’s not a great father, but I think you can see that he really does care even though he chooses business over his own son. He really didn’t think that he was doing that much wrong. I was a little worried about that myself since I feel like I am a loveable shark. Those are the kinds of things that you have to finesse.”
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