The buzz began in earnest four months ago, just after About Schmidt first screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Jack really delivers! He’s looking at Oscar No. 4! Nicholson certainly won’t discuss that kind of thing, and nobody else wants to jinx it (“I don’t want to say anything about awards,” says the movie’s co-writer and director, Alexander Payne), but New Line is obviously positioning its film as a major contender: It opens the New York Film Festival on September 27 then begins an Oscar-qualifying run on December 25.
The role seems as if it were written for Nicholson. And though the script is based on Louis Begley’s 1986 novel, Payneactually did write the script with Jack in mind. It’s not easy to see the connection, since Warren Schmidt is a midwestern widower, just retired from his job, who hits the road to attend his daughter’s wedding. Hardly the Nicholson lifestyle. But he embraced the aging, lonely man. “He went so deeply into this character, who is much different than himself,” says Payne. “He is capable of doing anything – and he could do and would do anything.” Hope Davis, who plays Schmidt’s daughter, was surprised at how completely Nicholson disappeared into the role. “It was so easy to work with him because he’s so into it,” she says. “This is a whole different kind of Jack. I think it’s one of his best performances ever, and that’s saying a lot.”
(New Line; December 25)