Jack Nicholson: The Badass Hollywood Star

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How old is Lorraine now?
She's eight. Well, about – she and Raymond are both coming up on birthdays: eight and six.

They're growing up. And, with respect, you with them?
Ray has put me at peace with some emotional things about myself that no amount of analysis could have done. Just because you get to know your children innately. It's all there to begin with. For instance, Rebecca understands me much clearer because of Ray. He is very, very tough, with absolutely nothing but a soft, moochy interior to back it up. I see him doing it and I think, "Jeez, this is just the way people like him and me are."

And Lorraine?
Lorraine, not to get all mystical, is a very old soul. I have a picture of her in her swaddling cap, and I understand infants don't smile for quite a few weeks. They don't have it. And I've got somebody who's looking straight at the camera like this [beams]. So if there is such a thing as an old soul, then she's one of them.

Have the kids been a bridge for you and Rebecca?
Theoretically, yeah. Certainly they are the reason for my not bolting from an uncomfortable situation, which would be my tendency. And finding some way to vitiate any kind of emotional sadness. I didn't have that option here. And I'm glad. I mean, I might have done everything I could to put distance between Rebecca and me, love her though I did and do, except I – I couldn't.

She's pyrotechnical, but don't you like a good oil fire?
Yeah, well, everybody says that about me. I don't deny it. She disagrees with me a lot, and, you know, at some moments I'm not loving it. Like everybody, I've always been trying to have a nice, loving relationship with somebody I was crazy about. And I felt like, "Jeez, this is one area where I can't say I'm off the top of the charts in terms of success." I'm living singly now. I have five or so years' experience with it. The way I behave has changed in incremental and subtle ways. I don't know if it's been to the good.

Your relationship with Caleb, your son with actress Susan Anspach, has been termed problematic – is that because you've never formally recognized him?
Caleb and I have been getting along beautifully now. In fact, last night I went to sleep and went, "Oh, shit, I didn't think to call Caleb. I must remember to make a note to do that." Having said that, based on the legality – the extremely unpleasant litigious nature of most of my relationship there – I'm not really at liberty to say what I think about it.

What about your peers? Warren Beatty seems to be making a go of it as a family man.
He's a blithering nut. He really can't think about anything else. He just turns into a goo machine around his own children. We had Thanksgiving with Warren, Annette and family. Nothing's come close to making Warren as happy in his life as these children. Nothing.

You're in that ballpark yourself.
Yeah, with my own kids.

Jennifer, your daughter with Sandra Knight, has given you a grandson.
Sean the Mighty. Yeah.

Named for Sean Penn?
Could be. I don't know. See, this is the difference in the times in my life. Jennifer doesn't always tell me how she arrives at things. And I'm not always mad that she doesn't tell me, you know. I want to know, I really do always want to know. Kind of dig away at it a little, but Jen's her own gal, and, you know, we've had our knockdowns, but pretty consistently I've had a deep inner certainty that this is a very good person. And to a parent, that's important.

You met Rebecca through her?
No, but later on, Rebecca and Jennifer became very close friends.

Was there an immediate spark with Rebecca?
Yeah. Yeah, I didn't know this was going to totally change my life – it wasn't like that – but there were definitely sparks, for sure. Certainly, the relationship has been rocky. But it's in a beautiful attunement at the moment. Hallelujah to that.

What about your temper and that incident when you did some unscheduled bodywork on a car with your golf clubs?
One month I just decided not to lose my mind, no matter what happened to me. I wasn't going to break any clubs or call people hideous names or curse the blessed divine elements. And just that improved my golf by about six shots a round.

Is big, bad Jack Nicholson becoming a tamer person?
Well, you know, I'm reaching – these people in my life are all a good deal younger than I am. I don't share their television experience. So I don't have easy access to them conversationally. But one of the things that I do hear quite a bit is that I'm someone that they count on to indicate that every single thing one does in life needn't be totally orthodox, that there's still room for iconoclasm without being a pain in the ass in the world. I'm glad if I can do that. I'm glad.

This story is from the March 19th, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.

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