As it happens, however, he has also defined what he does for a living in terms of sex. "You have to determine, what is your sexuality in this scene?" he said a long time ago. "Everything else comes from that. It's the key. The total key." Naturally, his Mulholland Drive pad is a place also all about sex. In the early Seventies it was well known as "the epicenter of the era's drug-soaked social scene," according to one report, and while living there then Anjelica Huston nicknamed Jack "the Hot Pole." As well, it's where, in 1977, with Jack out of town, director Roman Polanski allegedly raped a thirteen-year-old girl; after his arrest, he fled the country, never to return. And, finally, there are the choice words that Jack uses to spice up his normal, everyday conversation, two of his favorites being "pussy" and "cunt."
"I love those words!" he almost shouts one day. "I mean lately, I may ask someone, 'Well, look, do you have a response as to whether I say 'cunt' or 'pussy' or 'pookie'? But I love being able to say things like, 'Cunt is an acronym.' 'For what?' 'For can't-understand-normal-thinking.' Heh, heh, heh. Now, of course, I'm sure I just made that up for goofy stuff. But the point is, I just happen to like those words."
And so it swirls, sex, all around him, constantly, if not in his bed so much as before, then in his head, always. "It's not that sex is the primary element of the universe," he said in 1972. "It's just that when it's unfulfilled, it will affect you." That's an interesting notion to contemplate, because, as a guy who for decades could not sleep alone, it seems fair to conclude that no one has been more affected by sex than him. In fact, seen in this light, he could be the most unfulfilled man of all time. Then again, maybe that's taking his reputation too much at face value.
"A lot of it, I don't know how real it is," he says. "I've always allowed for that element in my public image to be to some degree overstated, because it's good for business." He pauses, reaches for a cigarette and shifts gears a little. "I mean, I get depressed like everybody," he goes on. "I have angst. I have anxiety. I worry about the world. Nobody was expecting the kind of fearful times that we live in. It's really out of the blue. It's like, 'My God, what the hell is happening?'
"I'm an American through and through, and I can't find any reason why anybody should be wanting to blow up everything. Saddam Hussein may have said, 'We'll win this because the West worships life and we worship death.' But I don't believe it. In my heart I know that nobody's that different that we would want what's going on now. And people can say, 'That's easy for you to say, Jack. You're one of the luckiest people on the planet.' Well, yeah. I mean, so what? I'm lucky, so because you're not you think murdering innocent people is great? I mean, in a lighthearted movie like Mars Attacks, as the president, I'm in a condescending way trying to slip in the philosophy of Rodney King, saying to the little people, 'Can't we all just get along?' But, I mean, can't we?"
And so, in addition to sex, these are the kinds of things that are currently on Jack's mind – along with basketball, of course, and his golf game, and, lately, his teenagers Lorraine and Raymond. With them, he tries not to be too overbearing, nor is he about to offer advice based on his life as a well-known pot smoker, a well-known one-time LSD user, a well-known pro-lifer (due to his own "illegitimate" birth), and so on. Instead, he says to them something like, "Look, I remember myself as a teenager, so I know I'm not going to be the first parent that ever outsmarted a teenager, and I'm not trying. All I'm going to say is, everything they say is bad for you, pretty much it is bad for you." And pretty much he leaves it at that.
A few things, at random, from inside Jack's world and head:
He often refers to himself as "a hick from New Jersey."
He laments the thirty-year tenure of melodrama in the movies but understands it. "Once you start blowing up almost every other building in a picture, the audience, they jones without it. It's their rhythm."
He suffers from claustrophobia, and if you're at a restaurant with him and paying attention you may notice him angling for the outside seat at a booth. He's OK if he gets trapped inside. It just makes him uncomfortable.
When he looks in the mirror, what he generally notices first is that "I can't see myself too clearly these days. Sometimes I go ahead and put the glasses on."
That time he spent three months hanging around his place in the nude: "I felt it was totally necessary. I'm self-conscious about body image. I don't have a great body shot. And it was an era of'Let's get free.' I know it drove my oldest daughter insane. I just wanted to be more relaxed within my skin. But it didn't totally resolve all that, like many experiments you think you've concluded on yourself but you haven't really."
Those times he took acid, which was done in a clinical setting, what the experience taught him: "Just let it be. Release. Kind of be where you are, where we are, where it is, in a kind of fearless, unconscious way."
The TV show Deadwood: "I love that show. It's a tough morality play. You should see it."
Girls with cigarettes: "They've used them to hold me off. Distract the predator. The Great Seducer."
Mona Lisa, with that smile on her face, what she's thinking: "I know you. I know what you're thinking. Don't try to fool me."
A recent big panic: "I haven't lived out every fantasy that ever came into my empty, er, echoing head, but enough of them that I'm relaxed about it. The only thing lately is, I got to the point where I couldn't in any way conjure up a fantasy. It was like, 'Ohhh, I'd love to ...' but there was, like, nothing in that department in my head. And as a man who has been attracted to Eleanor Roosevelt, it really panicked me out."
So, there it is, a bit more of Jack, what's going on with him and making him tick.
One more thing. He says he likes it a lot, a whole lot, when women in his bed call him by his name. "I can't help but notice that women, especially when they're in any sort of amorous mood, don't say my name that much, so I like it when they do. I like being called 'Jack.' I like being identified by my name. At that moment."
Before it gets too dark, can I see that view you were talking about, Brando's tree from your bathroom?"
"Heh, yeah, sure," he says, looking somewhat startled.
So, up a flight of stairs we go. Halfway down a narrow hallway, he hooks to the right, into a bathroom, and ushers me close to a tight little interior cubicle with a toilet that faces, up high, a smallish rectangular window. "You see this pine tree right there?" he says. But from where I'm standing, it's obvious that I can't. "Sit on the throne there," he says. I do. "See it up there?" he says. I do, vaguely. It's a tall, wide-spreading pine, with maybe some wind dancing into its branches. Jack turns down the lights. "Can you see it better now?" he asks. "It's just a view. But you're repetitively in that big pine tree. And it gets bigger all the time." He leads me out again – past his twin-sinked vanity with its three large mirrors and a countertop displaying all of his toiletries, neatly arrayed, a bottle of Listerine, shaving gear, two kinds of toothpaste, his Prilosec – and into his bedroom. He turns on a TV. "As long as we're up here," he says, "I'll just show you this." What he shows me is the strap-on-dildo scene from The Departed, with him saying to the girls, "Are you ready, pony girl?" and "Want some coke?" and "Don't move until you're numb."
Afterward, he says, "That scene is something that's being discussed. Is it gilding? Is it too much? My reason for it is an old moviemaker's instinct but also, unfortunately, an audience will find it more corrupt that the man who's buried in blood up to his throat, see, so that's the reason why I have a certain amount of passion for having it in. Martin and I both happen to feel the same way: It's the perimeter of his corruption. He's a bad man. And I always want that to be clear."
I ask him to tell me about all the cool-looking little figurines sitting on top of his TV cabinet. "Oh, the gimcracks?" he says, and reels off the names of several well-known, big-money artists. "And see this little one here?" he goes on. "I don't know how good your eyes are, but he's holding his dick in his hand." Meanwhile, I'm looking around Jack Nicholson's bedroom, the place where he has gotten so much business done. I look at his bed, the four blue pillows heaped on it, and the blue duvet pulled back on one side to reveal the dent. The dent! I feel a little woozy, just as a girl might upon seeing it for the first time.
And, indeed, right around then, Jack clears his throat and says, "I don't know if I've ever had someone like you in my bedroom before. Feels a bit intimate."
"Don't worry, I'll be gentle on you," I say, nervously. "So, what's in the top drawer of your bedside table?"
"Pencils," Jack says, nervously, too, largely caught off guard for once, I can see. "Phone. Phone things."
"Do you want to open the top drawer?"
"Er, no," he says. "Well, I don't know what's actually – There are drawers over here you'd be more interested in."
"OK What about those drawers?"
"Well," he says, his gravel voice turning more gravelly by the second, "there are some things you're better off not knowing," and then without taking a breath he quickly adds, "I sit here a lot and sketch, for instance. Sometimes at night instead of reading I'll paint a bit."
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