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Jack of Hearts

Has Hollywood’s original bad boy gone good? One-time rogue Jack Nicholson lives alone, tends to his teenagers, and yearns for one last great love

Q: Morgan Freeman said that you were constantly tweaking the script.

A: Yes. There’s a line in the movie where the hospital tycoon says, “I’ve never been sick before!” Which I found amusing and was in fact true of me. Just before this movie, I had an infection in my saliva gland and I was in the hospital in bed. I’d never been in bed for six to eight weeks. Talk about the loss of recuperative powers as we get older. I was worried: “Am I ready to get on my feet and do a movie?”

Q: So you were able to bring that experience right into the character.

A: I thought I was going to be the ideal patient. Not! I didn’t like the tubes, and I didn’t like this and that. One line in the movie that’s personal for me is “More people die from visitors than diseases.” There is some truth in that.

Q: Because as a patient you feel responsible for the feelings of everyone who comes to see you?

A: It is exhausting! Not only don’t you have the energy, but you don’t care.

Q: Speaking of responsibility, because you are an icon, people wonder, “How is Jack going to get old? Is he going to show courage and humor about it?”

A: I surprise myself positively a lot of times, but I don’t count on my own courage in advance. I’m not a role model as a person. I can sort of do it for my children [teenagers Lorraine and Ray are the youngest of his five kids], but I’m not particularly great at that part, either.

Q: In what ways has getting older altered your behavior out in the world?

A: I can’t hit on a girl in public like I used to. I never thought words like undignified would come into my own reflections on myself, but—I can’t do it anymore.

Q: Because of public perception?

A: I feel uncomfortable. I don’t think anybody cares what I do in these areas, but it feels a little bit off to me.

Q: Would you date a woman of AARP age?

A: Well, yes—I’d do everything to a woman of AARP age, and have. In fact, every year I like to cover a very broad spectrum. But you know? I’ve been single for quite a long time. I’ve been invested in my teenage children.

Q: What kind of father are you?

A: Well, it’s a divided parenthood, with their wonderful mother and myself. We’ve always gotten along. I want to be inspirational, or some kind of good influence on them without overburdening them. It’s their time of life to find out who they are. I always read to them, from childhood on; I think that’s a father’s responsibility. I took them to things I knew they might not love—opera, ballet. They like going to the ball games with me. And they are very comfortable around show business; they are good set rats. They walked in on my death scene in The Departed. I said, “If I can get these two kids really worried, I’m doin’ my job!”

Q: Didn’t you just take one of your kids to look at colleges back east?

A: I took the college tour with the fabulous Lorraine. With families, you don’t always get to be one-on-one. [And sometimes] there’s this wall of “What happened today, darling? Anything interesting?” I’ve asked more unanswered questions to these two particular children. Then you think, “Hey, I did not want to hang out with my parents when I was a teenager.” You have to get over that as a parent. What I don’t want to pass along is my irrational fears. They can be perfect kids, they can try to do everything right—and you’re in the lap of the gods. This is the eternal vulnerability that you have with your children.

Q: What sort of a boy is your son Ray?

A: Ray is fab. He gave up a summer trip to the south of France, to get himself in condition because he very much wanted to make the varsity football team. Which he did; he’s the youngest guy on the varsity. But in the last practice he broke his collarbone. And even with this, he got up every day at six, went to practice. Ray might not tell you exactly what he’s up to, but once he’s got his mind set on something, he’s gonna stick to it and take care of business, no matter what me or anybody else says.

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