Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman Interview – THE BUCKET LIST

     December 23, 2007

Opening on Christmas Day in New York and Los Angeles is “The Bucket List.” The film is about two men – played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman – who have terminal diseases. They end up meeting because they share a hospital room and while talking they discover they have two things in common: a desire to spend the time they have left doing everything they ever wanted to do before they “kick the bucket” and an unrealized need to come to terms with who they are. Together they embark on the road trip of a lifetime, becoming friends along the way.

So to help promote the film, I recently was able to participate in a press conference with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Needless to say, I don’t think either person needs any sort of introduction.

Since this was the first time I’d ever had an opportunity to be in the same room with Jack Nicholson, I’ll admit to being excited to hear him speak in person. There aren’t too many living legends in Hollywood, and I think we can all agree that he’s near the top of the list. Anyway, during the press conference the two of them played off each other and I really got the feeling that Morgan Freeman is as much a fan of Jack’s as everyone else. If you’re a fan of Jack’s this is almost a must read, as it’s not too often he does press.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you want to watch some clips from “The Bucket List,” click here.

Question: Can you talk about getting on board and who was on first?

Morgan: Who’s on first?

Jack: He’s on first, let him talk.

Morgan: I got a call from Rob Reiner—how long ago—and this was a script I had read before and had turned it down. The idea. Rob said I’ve got this great script and I want to do it and I want to do it with you. I said alright. I read it and said in the right hands, this is going to be terrific. So I called him up and said, it’s nice but there’s a caveat here: you need to get one actor, and he said, who? And I said Jack Nicholson. So he said, Jack? Alright. Let’s try it. Now it’s his story.

Jack: Well, you know, I’d worked with Rob and I liked working with him and Morgan and I have known one another at a distance for a long time and had always known we wanted to work together, and that’s pretty much all it took for me. That was that and off we went. Plus, it’s a tough little puzzle. Rob found the tone for this fairly early on. He said we’re not going to make this movie nine times; let’s try and get it right. To deal with this subject, one of the most fearsome subjects in a comic manner is a creative puzzle really. Until I saw it with the first audience, you can’t really know if you veered on or off. My impression from the first screening was that I was impressed with how long the audience was moved at the end of the picture. It wasn’t just they were moved. When you’ve got an audience going for 10-15 minutes that’s a long time. And I don’t think you can do that if you’re sentimental, particularly these are semi-professional audiences. It has sentiment, but if you get sentimental you’re going to lose them. So hats off. We kind of throw it at the wall and Rob got it good. He did a good job really. It’s not the kind of job you get credit for as a director. It’s a two-hander. It’s not pyrotechnical in that sense. A lot of scenes between Morgan and I, which we enjoyed tremendously. But a director, you’ve got to have things blowing up, very odd story progressions and so forth.

Morgan: But we did have a car chase.

Jack: We did have a car chase.

Q: Have either of you made a bucket list?

Morgan: For me, no. I think that you’re bucket list is your bucket list. I don’t think it’s one you wrote down but it’s written somewhere on you, in your heart. There are things you check off as you go through life, doing the things you want to do, if you get to do the things you want to do.

Jack: That’s the thing: if you get to. I just did an interview and I told the man I was going to lie more so I didn’t repeat myself but I’m going to anyway. The third element in this was to see the pyramids, which was kind of in my silent list. Pavarotti was going to do “Aida” at the pyramids, and Lorne Michaels was going to produce it. And I signed up for that a year and a half early and of course he didn’t, God rest his soul. So winding up on a rooftop in the middle of Los Angeles to shoot that scene was a mild disappointment to me. I still want to see the pyramids.

Q: What did each of your bring to your characters that wasn’t already on the page?

Jack: Depends.

Morgan: That’s like an actor question. What does an actor bring to a part that wasn’t on the page? The actor brings the actor. It sounds kind of glib but that’s the only answer there is. Let’s say there were two other actors doing these roles, what you’d get would be two other actors doing the roles. It’s not easy to answer a question like, what do you bring to it. I don’t know. You tell me.

Q: Was there a backstory?

Morgan: No.

Jack: We certainly brought an extra affinity because of what we said earlier. We wanted to work together.

Morgan: That’s a good answer.

Jack: I’d gone to school on Morgan. I know he probably has a little bit on me too. Not meeting in raw like two actors meeting, you don’t get to throw in freckles if you’re uptight with the actor or if he is with you. That’s why we did it. It’s a two-hander. We get to do what actors like to do: act. You can feel the difference when you’re pulling or pushing a scene or when it’s just going along. We certainly hoped for and counted on it and we got it with one another.

Morgan: That question about what’s on your bucket list this (pointing to Jack) has been on my bucket list for a long time.

Jack: He’s a mysterious man, Morgan. I sort of wondered how we got on so well. We hadn’t seen as much of each other over the years and I know now. Where have you been Morgan? Well, I was in Belgrade. The man moves. He flies. You never know where he is. He’s a man of mystery. No doubt about it.

Q: You’re two acting legends.

Morgan: Legends!

Q: You’re working together for the first time. What were the surprises? Jack, you were cheated out of an Oscar last year. Do you curse the heavens? I deserved the nomination.

Jack: That’s a very multi-part question. I certainly have felt robbed many times at the Oscars. It kind of goes with the territory. I think there are too many awards show, like everybody else. It covers five months now and I think it dilutes it. But generationally, it’s like jeez it’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor or whatever when you first start going to them and you develop a relationship with Bob Hope and it has all that glamour that I wish we still had in that way. So does everybody else. Like everything, it’s your own fault. About that, I wasn’t sure I gave the best performance in the picture no less in the world. How can you separate them? And here’s Morgan and I, we’re in every scene. You’re supposed to do it a certain way and it comes a certain way. It’s just another way of talking about it. It’s kind of a pleasant conceit. But somehow the criteria gets it right a lot of times. Mainly for me, it’s something good for everybody so why worry about it, other than to support it, which I did. Thought robbed I may have been. How come I don’t get an old-age sentimental Oscar like several people did?

Morgan: You’re not old yet.

Jack: See what I’m saying. Perfect.

Q: What surprised you working with each other? What did you find out about Jack?

Morgan: I found out he was a writer. I didn’t know he was a stinkin’ writer. I knew he was a great actor. He came up to me and said, I’m probably going to drive you crazy because but I work. I love nights angsting over little things in the script. I will be doing that and talking to you the next day. I said fine, my joy is you. What you do in your off time is your business.

Jack: I’m a worrier. He’s not.

Q: Would Jack write lines for you?

Morgan: No! No! He writes lines for himself. He’s a great shaper, I think, of material, because he looks at commas, periods and colons and semi-colons, and they make the difference.

Jack: There’s nothing wrong with “She hates me.” (Pause.) “Do you hate me?”

Morgan: Nothing wrong with that at all.

Jack: Not yet. I wrote some good scenes. (He chuckles.)

Q: At what point in your life were you able to cut through the clutter?

Morgan: 21. I knew as a teenager what I wanted to do. I got sidetracked because I also thought I wanted to be an adventurer. I joined the Air Force to become a jet pilot. A fighter pilot. A killer. And I was 21 years old when I had the opportunity to sit in a plane and say, this ain’t it. There was only one other choice in my life and that was acting. So whatever else was going to happen after that, I’m blazing in on acting. I think that answered your question about cutting through the clutter.

Jack: That was pretty early on. I tell you for all actors, things didn’t get clear for me until after I didn’t have to audition anymore. That cleared things up for me.

Q: That was after Easy Rider?

Jack: Yeah. Right. Overnight maybe. 12 years of…

Q: Both of your characters have to undergo humiliating medical treatment. Did you talk to people who’ve experienced this?

Jack: I’ve spent more time in hospitals and I’ve only been there on my own behalf once. I even worked in a hospital once, sort of. So I’ve had a lot of experience with it. But that doesn’t inform you; but you do pick up a lot of impressions about them. When I did this little stint in the hospital before I did this picture and kind of panicked out, I used to go into hospitals and think it was my job to kind of up the vibe and make people feel better. Walking down those corridors at night and watching those men sitting in chairs looking like this (he looks down and glum), I suddenly felt a little less antic and I’m sure I’ll behave quite differently. I don’t think I was wrong to try and cheer people up but you gotta know your audience, ya know?

continued on page 2 ———>


Q: Did either of you try the Kopi Luac coffee?

Jack: Kopi Luac. Another tip of the hat to Rob Reiner. I kept saying Kopi Luac? This better work, baby, because we … what’s with the Kopi Luac? It held together in there very well.

Morgan: (To a journalist) Have you ever tasted the stuff?

Q: No. But I had weasel vomit, and it tasted good.

Morgan: Maybe you got some sort of high.

Jack: She started weaseling around. No is the short answer. I didn’t feel it was necessary for the research.

Morgan: Me either.

Q: What would you do for Jack and what would you do for Morgan?

Jack: There’s something kind of final in that statement. We’re both golfers a bit and I’d love to go out and play golf with Morgan. We went to a ballgame together. Morgan works a lot more than I do lately. He’s been very busy. I’d just like to see more of him. On his behalf, he’s doing fine.

Morgan: If you can find a way to help me break 90.

Jack: I’m a good coach, but I can’t play.

Q: Did you know each other before this movie started?

Morgan: I’ve known him ever since Easy Rider. I’ve seen just about everything he’s ever done.

Jack: We were acquaintances of longstanding. We’ve gone through a lot over this period of time. We weren’t quite so distinguished when we first met. We had a few…

Morgan: I thought you were.

Jack: You thought I was distinguished? Isn’t that wonderful.

Morgan: I was ready to kneel down and say, I’d do anything for a chance to work with you.

Jack: We’d run into one another, crossing backstage at the Oscars, for instance, and talk about the women. This kind of relationship; it’s changed over the years. And it’s changed now. We got to share a protracted amount of time together and Morgan—this is the only film you’ll ever see where Nelson Mandela was cut out. Morgan going over there got some footage with Nelson but Rob decided we weren’t going to shoot it. There were a lot of reasons. I just thought it would interest you to know that we had Nelson Mandela in the picture and he got cut out.

Q: Now that you’ve met each other, did you have to work scenes out or let it happen?

Jack: Everything is three or four takes. One thing we did share: we loved starting every day lying down in bed. Fantastic.

Morgan: The good thing about Jack is that he doesn’t get up early in the morning. The day would start around 10 a.m.

Jack: And that’s early.

Morgan: We worked fast.

Jack: I’ve never worked with a movie crew that outran me. This movie crew—I was just easing back and they were like, c’mon, we gotta get going. It was good. Halfway through I thought, geez, I hope they’re not kicking this movie out. It’s going pretty fast. We were out of continuity. I had that anxiety but it was great for me, because I worried about energy being in bed for eight weeks before. So getting it like that, I expected it of Morgan. If we don’t do a lot of mistakes we can do it in two takes or we can do it in 82 takes.

Q: You were in bed for eight weeks before this movie? What happened?

Jack: I had this—it wasn’t a big thing—it wasn’t… I had a saliva gland where I had to have this operation. It was infected. All those antibiotics. I panicked a little bit, let’s put it that way, because I was tired. I didn’t know. It takes a lot of energy to do a movie so I wasn’t sure I could do it. I did what I should do: I worked harder. I didn’t want to self-prophesize catastrophe and not make a full effort. It really worked for us. You don’t even know it but you can feel when you’re trying to MAKE something happen. It never came up with Morgan as far as I’m concerned. He’s the guy and that’s that, from the beginning.

Q: You gentleman have reached the status of, I suppose, of Hollywood’s senior citizens. How do you deal with it? Apart from collecting your social security.

Jack: You bet I collect. (Laughs.)

Morgan: Me too. Y’know, I think a lot of senior citizenship is a mental thing. I don’t feel senior. Of course when I look at a mirror in the morning, there it all is. But, thank heavens I don’t…Well, for instance, I don’t know what it feels like to be 70, except to feel the way I feel which isn’t 70.

Jack: I’ll tell you one thing. When I look in the mirror in the morning I can’t see myself. (Laughs.) I am like Monet. (Laughs.) But you know all I do is be myself, I was going ot lie all day today. But, when I turned 70 was actually the first time since 50 that I felt young for my age. I know, me, as Morgan said so. Y’know, 50 scares you to death. Numerical and so forth and then so forth, but the day I just noticed, I feel very young for my age. That’s tremendous. I’m going to put my glasses on. But y’know, we are fortunate in that other than ‘Spider-Man’ and so forth, the movie audiences also moving along so to speak. Hence I think the resonance of this picture – ‘Bucket List.’ At my screening, I was telling Morgan on the way down, an artist couldn’t get a better result than this. I have a friend’s screening so to speak. And I was telling Morgan, four or five people reconciled in the lobby after this screening that I had. So, y’know, it’s nice to and the question I’ll ask you now: did the movie have resonance for you? Did you think about it later after you saw it? That was one thing I wanted to know subjectively as a person involved and the other thing was the tone which the audience itself answered that. Cause, you don’t know. This was the first movie that I got done we worked hard or constant – hard might not be the right word – every day and the problems and the matchings and the this and the that, but it was very out of continuity. More than usual. More than the usual cliché of, ‘How do you do this?’ The result of that was is that I didn’t know…Well, normally by the time you are done shooting you got some sense, but I really didn’t know. ‘Well, I wonder what?’ When I got done you start saying, ‘Geez, we did that? I wonder…’ and so forth and so on. The first review came in with Morgan’s response, when you saw it I said, ‘What did you think Morgan?’ And he said, ‘Astonishing.’ So, I thought, ‘That’s…’

Morgan: But you gotta take that with a bucket of salt.

Jack: Bucket of salt…(Laughs.)

Morgan: To me, (to Jack) You can close your ears. It wouldn’t matter if they had taken the whole thing and tossed it into the toilet. I was working with Jack Nicholson. You are never going to know what’s that’s like until you do it. Primo. O.K. (Laughs.)

Jack: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Q: Do you know what your next project is going to be?

Jack: I never go to a next until I’m done.

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