Tom Cruise on Jack Nicholson
I couldn’t wait to play that courtroom scene in A Few Good Men [pictured] with Jack Nicholson. I’d been thinking about it for months. And it was like, here it is, man, I’m going to enjoy every moment of this.
Playing the scene out, Colonel Jessup as a written character is overpowering, so [Jack] needed to give him that power. But he understands the camera in such a manner that the power had to come from stillness. So he made his movements so minimal. I could see the motions becoming less and less. So it becomes like this focus. When it comes to the key point, Jessup doesn’t even realise my character has beaten him, but you can see the flicker of Jack’s eyes; and it’s not calculated, he just understands the power of the frame. That’s what makes him a craftsman.
People came from all around just to watch us play that scene. They were showing up along the edges! So many people. And when the scene ended the first time, there was applause. Everyone around, applauding. God, it was exciting. It was electric.
Working with Jack was really exceptional because you’re working with someone who started out really as a writer – he appreciates good writing, understands it, and knows how to turn certain phrases, even down to little things, like that anti-Semitic comment in the scene, “You, Lieutenant Weinberg.” These are things he discovered on the day.
When you think of the guy from The Last Detail or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and now he’s playing Colonel Jessup, this terrifying military character – the wide range of performances that he’s given is incredible.
Look at that run he was on. Chinatown in 1974. The Last Detail in 1975. One of the all-time incredible performances. Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge… That whole period of cinema was remarkable. What movies they are. And you know, here’s a guy who was writing at the same time! He told me he was also pitching TV ideas!
When you look at The Last Detail, he’s communicating beyond the word. He is communicating the character, the emotion.
One thing doesn’t sum up Jack Nicholson. You can see an evolution in his work. I mean, look at his character in About Schmidt. That’s what I appreciate. You just line up his movies and go, wow!
When you see Jack on screen, you’re looking at him in a frame, and you’re thinking, why are my eyes drawn to that guy? Look at Chinatown – the guy is so alive on screen. He’s so charismatic. I mean, listen, it’s why some people are movie stars.
Jack also understands, I think, the power he has. And he enjoys it. And you enjoy that he enjoys it. That’s key. You know, he’s enjoying it, so we’re enjoying it too.
Since A Few Good Men, any time I see him, I look at him, and I know he’s a friend.
I’ve wanted to work with Jack again since then. And it doesn’t matter how old he is, or whatever, he’s just a guy you want to see on film. It goes to the heart of what it is that makes people who they are and why? As an audience, you want to go on that journey with him.