"What's your favorite position?"
"Huh? Oh. Ha, ha, ha. Heh, heh, heh. Two arms and legs," he says, obliquely.
And at times like these, it's best to raise your voice and start yelling something like, "Oh, come on, Jack! God! It's missionary! It's every guy's favorite position!"
"Yeah. Yes," he says. "But as you get older it's inverted missionary, because of other reasons. Look, I'm less rambunctious these days, not because of a change in character, but your physiognomy changes. I am not as obsessed. I am not as, you know – I'm still very – I have the same libido. But whether you want it to or not, that part of your life changes a bit. Throughout most of my life, though, I liked doing what I like to do. And I've been fortunate because that's just the way it worked out for me."
"You mean you got laid a lot just because it worked out that way?"
"Well, no. You know, I mean, I was very driven. I remember being at least mentally sexually excited about things from childhood, even sooner than eight, in the bath-tub. I mean, I had a large appetite."
"As Kim Basinger once pointed out!" I say. (What she'd said was "[Jack's] the most highly sexed individual I have ever met.")
"Well," says Jack then, taking a long, deep breath, "I've never talked about it that much. I talk about the generality of it. But in all honesty, I'm very tender in these areas. Let's use that word."
"Altoid?" I ask, offering one.
"Sure," he says, and places it in his mouth.
And then for a few moments we let the day slip by, his ship of comfort seeming to rock just a little, in a little late breeze.
Lots of things are reverberating into the past around Jack Nicholson these days. For instance, the dildo-in-a-porno-theater scene he thought up for The Departed. The roots of it, you could argue, reach back twenty-five years, to 1981, when he was making The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Jessica Lange – a highly sexed-up piece that nonetheless features no nudity whatsoever. Jack, however, was dead set on making it "one of the naughtiest movies" and decided that the solution lay in showing an erection – "this kind of bulging railer" – through his 1940s pleated pants. To that end, he asked director Bob Rafelson to craft him a conventional prosthetic, but no one took him seriously, so when the day to shoot the scene arrived, he found himself empty-handed and irritated. Said Rafelson, "Well, jeez, if you're so red-hot about this, go upstairs and see what you can do there." And so Jack did, "whipping away," he says, until he realized that some things were beyond even him.
And then there's Marlon Brando, the only actor to ever outsize him as icon. How odd it is to think that for three decades two such figures shared the same driveway and lived in homes only a few stumble-through-the-woods minutes apart (with their pal Beatty also living nearby, several houses away, the trio forming a kind of unholy trinity that once led local cops to nickname Mulholland Drive "Bad Boy Drive"). Jack idolized Brando. He called him "the man on the hill" and was always delighted, or at least not horrified, when he found Brando's underpants in his laundry. So when he died, in 2004, Jack bought his place, for $6.5 million. It's in terrible, falling-apart condition. He plans to get rid of it completely and plant frangipani where it once stood.
"I rarely talked to him on the phone," he says. "For the most part, he'd come wandering down. We had many, many discussions other than 'Well, what are we going to do about the gate?' and 'Well, I hear my kids came down here.' But we were good neighbors because we weren't up each other's ass all the time. I mean, what can you say? He's one of the most powerful presences in our lifetime, just sitting there, the big fella. After he died, though, I couldn't go up there for months or years. I just had this weird juju." He shivers, dramatically, to show what he means. "Juju kinds of feelings." Then he pauses and says, "For all thirty years, Marlon's presence to me was this tree I see out the window in front of my toilet. I miss him."
He seems to be getting a little melancholy, so I change the subject and ask him to describe his mornings. He says that he usually wakes up around 11 a.m., when Gloria, his housekeeper, brings him breakfast in bed. On the breakfast tray is a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee (cream, sugar), a container of diet chocolate pudding (but only on weekends) and his daily regimen of pills, which includes a baby aspirin, for all the good one baby aspirin a day can do a person; Lipitor, to deal with certain cholesterol issues; and a Celebrex, to ease the pain of arthritis, with a Prilosec waiting in the wings should heartburn develop. Now, at night, he usually doesn't go to sleep until 4 a.m. and most often spends the last two hours before lights out – "my ass-scratching hours" – with his nose deep into a book, most recently The Genesis Code, a thriller by John Case, and Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile, about the nutty renegade congressman. Typically he does this reading up in bed, in the half of the bed that's been imprinted by his bulk and that he likes to call "the dent."
"And of course," he continues, wolfish grin making an appearance, canines gleaming, "I do like company when I have it. That's always exhilarating."
"And do you have a lot of company?"
"I'm unattached for quite a while so I have varied company. In terms of age, you could say that over the last year, I've probably covered the territory from twenty-one to sixty-one."
"Yeah, I'm good with my pals. You know there's certainly more than one person that I've seen maybe thirty years, intimately. Unexpected by me. I have the normal things that people have. You know, Mom sitting on the toilet, scared, 'Gee, you know, when you were little,' or whatever that is. You know what I mean, 'Oh, am I going to be able to deal with crepe?' or whatever the fears are."
The Mom-sitting-on-the-toilet-scared-gee thing is so out of the blue and weird that I am struck senseless and don't think to ask him what he means by it. All I can manage to say is "Crepe?"
"Crepe," he says. "You know, any fears you may have about contacting mortality or the aging process, particularly in this area."
What he means, I suddenly realize, are his fears about coming into contact with wrinkly, baggy, crepe-y old skin, not his own but that hanging off an older woman.
It sometimes seems, tellingly, perhaps, that all of Jack Nicholson's life has revolved around sex in one way or another. To begin with, there's his birth circumstances, the so-called illegitimacy of it, which was tucked away and hidden, the dirtiest of family secrets. Then, as an adult, there's his frantic pursuit of women, all women. Among those known to have succumbed are horror-movie actress Sandra Knight, his wife from 1961 to 1966, from whom came daughter Jennifer, 42; Mamas and the Papas singer Michelle Phillips, before she took up with Warren Beatty; actress Susan Anspach, from whom came son Caleb, 36; actress Anjelica Huston, daughter of his great friend, the late director John Huston, for seventeen tempestuous, topsy-turvy years; former waitress Rebecca Broussard, from whom came daughter Lorraine, 16, and son Raymond, 14; and, most recently, tweezer-thin actress Lara Flynn Boyle, who is thirty-three years his junior. Among the rumored have been Diane Keaton, as well as Margaret Trudeau, wife of late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Among the most blabbermouthy was late Playboy model Karen Mayo-Chandler, who once said, "He's a nonstop sex machine. He's into fun and games ... like spanking, handcuffs, whips and Polaroid pictures," and who added that he eats peanut butter in bed "to keep his strength up." And among those he has mentioned as lust fantasies are President Jimmy Carter's wife, Rosalynn, President Franklin Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, and hotsy-totsy New Age guru and A Woman's Worth author Marianne Williamson. (He is also fond of the television preacher known as Reverend Ike, but not in the same way as the others, one hopes.)
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