Jack Nicholson is 73 and has made only six movies during the past 13 years (he has a seventh -- James L. Brooks' How Do You Know -- reportedly coming out sometime this year). He doesn't work more often because he doesn't need to. His name is known. He's a huge star, and five of those past six films have been hits. He also has more Oscar nominations -- and Oscar wins -- than nearly any other actor alive (or dead). That's more than Olivier, Brando or De Niro. He has every right to be contented, since he occupies a special place in movies, a place that hardly anyone ever reaches, no matter how popular or acclaimed. He has achieved a perfect balance between movie star and actor. In half of his movies, he's "just Jack," doing his usual casual, witty, cynical drawl, ever so cool and seductive. He can use his eyebrows as the most awesome instruments, expressing dismay at those who are not -- and can never be -- as cool as he.
And in the other half of his films, he's an actor's actor, capable of playing the richest and deepest roles, of sharing the screen with any kind of performer, from Boris Karloff and John Huston to Adam Sandler and Meryl Streep. Even Streep does not have it so good as Jack. Labeled as the "greatest actor alive," she has a lot to live up to with each new film. Jack just shows up, relaxed, his bag of tricks ever on hand. I'm convinced he could excel at Shakespeare, but perhaps he's not interested. Perhaps he'd simply dismiss the Bard in one of his terrific "saucy Jack" line readings.