Sometimes you don’t say my main goal is to be original and breathtaking, because that puts too much pressure on you as an actor,” growls Jack Nicholson, in an unusual bout of humility that he will quickly dispel. “But in this case, I felt that, in all honesty, that was what they hired me for.”
Certainly, Nicholson couldn’t squander the opportunity to appear in his first Martin Scorsese film on some chump part. In fact, he initially declined the role of a Boston-Irish gang boss in The Departed.
“I always give a fast no when it’s no, and originally there wasn’t a part there,” Nicholson says. “I said, ‘I’d love to work with you, Marty, I’ve always wanted to work with you—and Leo—but I just can’t do something because I like the idea. I gotta have a part that I’m interested in.’ ”
So “the fellas,” as Jack says—Scorsese and his boys DiCaprio and Matt Damon, who play an undercover cop and a gangster mole, respectively—made room for a meaty role for Jack. Nicholson and Scorsese began creating his part together, improvising new material until the end, as they attempted something fresh: an evil godfather who wasn’t “another black-suited gangster whose power is silent,” Nicholson says. “We wanted to take Marty’s genre, the gangster thriller, and find a way to flat-out do it differently, and to push the envelope. And, well, we pushed it.”
Jack, who’s always thought his erotic appeal is underrated, first asked for sex scenes. “These kind of monsters, they don’t usually have a sex life onscreen, so I wanted to bring that to the part.” He chuckles. “I pushed that side pretty good. He’s a mad, bad nut job, so he’s evil sexually too. Fuck ’em, kill ’em, you know … At the moment, it’s a matter of discussion how far we went, as a matter of fact,” he says proudly, noting that Scorsese’s currently debating whether to edit down his brutal lovemaking.
Even worse, Jack’s sadistic Irish Southie is so evil that he wears a Yankees hat on the streets of Boston. “First of all, they wanted me to wear a Red Sox hat,” he grumbles, “but I said, all things being equal, I don’t want to.
“My Yanks, they came before the Lakers, of course,” says the Jersey native. “But Kristen [Dalton], my inamorata in the picture, she wore a Red Sox cap both to subtly indicate domestic conflict and to politically mollify the fans in Boston.”
So Jack, six-time presenter of Best Picture, and Marty, six-time loser of Best Picture, have finally filmed an Oscar contender together. Jack says, “This could be the one for Marty,” though he admits he doesn’t know much about his competition this fall. He’s too caught up in the pennant race: “I’d like to help A-Rod out, because they just won’t shut up in the Stadium,” he says. “But my man’s Giambi. He’s my kind of biker guy, and his game face—well, I wouldn’t want to come between him and his goal, let’s put it that way.”
And with that, Nicholson releases a satisfied sigh. “My immediate work, the Yankees, moviemaking in general, sex, and so forth … I’m always happy to talk about the great loves of my life.”
—The Departed, Directed by Martin Scorsese, Warner Bros.; opens October 6 (R). Next: The Diane Arbus Biopic Fur