Jack Nicholson recalls his mother telling him two things about press conferences: Self-praise stinks and all comparisons are odious. Never mind, the 71-year-old star and three-time Oscar winner was in peak form during a rare visit to Japan, his 4th since the early 1960s and first since 1994.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Tokyo,” he said, wearing his trademark sunglasses and flashing an impish smile. “Tokyo is still a maze and it’s grown a lot, but it is still the same gentle place I remember.”
Notorious for not giving TV interviews to publicize his films, Nicholson said he likes to talk, nevertheless, and happily chatted about his life, acting, politics, women, Japanese titles for movies and, of course, his latest film, “The Bucket List,” in which he co-stars with old pal Morgan Freeman.
As for why he doesn’t give many interviews, he said: “It’s not because I’m shy; I’m very outgoing. I just think that if I did a lot of TV interviews, I would have a sense that people knew too much about who I am, and that would make my job harder.”
Nicholson prefers to let his work do his talking for him. He said he took one look at the script for “The Bucket List” and it was a simple decision. “That plus the fact I would be working with Freeman, who I’ve known since we were both young and wild.”
Directed by Rob Reiner (with whom Nicholson worked on “A Few Good Men”), “The Bucket List” tells the story of two terminally-ill cancer patients who make a list of things they’d like to do before they kick the bucket, and then set out on a world trip to do as many of them as they can in their time left. “We often think about the last things we will do, but never talk about them.
"Now I know you’re going to ask me what would be on my bucket list,” Nicholson said with a wag of his finger. “So I thought about it in the shower this morning. It’s something that I hear a lot from among my contemporaries and that is I'd like to have one last big romance. There are a lot of other things I’d wish for, like political changes or a resolution of the Muslim-West conflict, and medical cures, but I’m not in control of those things.”
“The Bucket List” deals with themes of life, death, faith and what is really valuable in one’s life. These are themes that Nicholson said he thinks about a lot and which are often reflected in his movie roles. “I invest a lot into each character and look for parts suited to me. Pretty soon, you do what comes naturally and you only use the things you learn in acting classes when you really need to,” he said of his acting style. “Working with Morgan was great. We worked very fast, usually doing no more than three takes.”
One thing that puzzles Nicholson is the way Japanese distributors change movie titles. “The Bucket List” becomes “How to Find the Best Life” for its Japan release. “The original title was obscure in the U.S. and has to be explained in the movie. The expression has since entered the U.S. political campaign with all candidates talking about their bucket list of things to do,” said Nicholson who has endorsed Hilary Clinton. “The title of the Japanese movie ‘Rashomon,’ for example, has entered the English language, but it was never changed to something different in English, so I’m against changing titles. But hey, that’s not my job.”
As Nicholson speaks, it’s hard to imagine this is the same character known for his womanizing and hell-raising days. His upbringing was anything but normal (he was brought up in New Jersey believing his grandparents were his parents and only learned the truth in 1974 from a journalist doing a story on him). He said he has mellowed a lot in the past few years and lives for the "here and now," devoting a lot of time to his children. “My life is sort of serendipitous. I live a pretty casual life. I’m still in the first house I ever bought 36 years ago. I don’t feel threatened by anything. I’m in good health. I still love women and they like me a lot, too,” he said with a grin. Asked what was the best kiss he had ever experienced, Nicholson quipped: “There have been so many.”
“The Bucket List” opens in Japan on May 10.© Japan Today