Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. In the last couple of years youve worked on Where
The Money Is with Paul Newman and now Jack Nicholson in About
Schmidt. Is it as thrilling as we imagine, working with such legends?
A. Ive had nothing but amazing luck with the
other actors Ive worked with, and it is true that there
are only a couple that approach the level of working with Jack
Nicholson. That was new and unusual, and I embraced the whole
process. I looked forward to having a shot at getting the part,
and when I got it I couldnt believe it, I met him and got
straight to work. It was fantastic.
Q. It must have made prematurely cutting your hair in the mullet
style of your character, Randall, worthwhile.
A. Yeah, it was worth it in the end. Im not mad, Im
just determined sometimes. Maybe thats basically the same
Q. Do you ever get overawed by keeping such company?
A. I dont, because I had been overawed years before with
other actors, and Ive found that effects how you do your
own job. Going into About Schmidt, I made a conscious decision
to view him as I would any other person I worked with. And it
helped, because instead of being in a scene thinking oh
Im saying lines opposite Jack Nicholson, youre
actually doing what you've been hired to do. Ive been a
fan of Jack Nicholson since Ive seen movies. So I didnt
have to do it on the set.
Q. Did either Newman or Nicholson inspire your original ambitions
to be an actor?
A. They definitely did, maybe Paul Newman more so, because I was
just starting to go and see movies when Butch Cassidy & The
Sundance Kid and The Sting came out. He was one of the first people
I came to recognise as a movie star. In our house we werent
so focussed on films. I really only discovered cinema when I was
Q. Randall is an odd character, seemingly unlikeable but underneath
the gauche exterior hes a nice guy isnt he?
A. That was clear from the way that Alexander Payne and Jim
Taylor wrote this character, it was evident in the script that
they loved and respected him. Nobody was interested in making
fun of a guy who looked like that or behaves that way. I think
his behaviour speaks for itself, hes above board, kind and
loving. He may make some bad financial decisions but whats
wonderful about this story is that your first impression of Randall
is through the eyes of Warren Schmidt, and as the film progresses
you realise that his viewpoint isnt necessarily reliable.
So Randall has a chance to make a case for himself, and I think
he does it well.
Q. Is it necessary, or desirable, to research a character like
A. It was mainly just a case of working with whats on the
page. You never see him selling waterbeds after all. In contemporary
things like this there really isnt much to research unless
youre playing a scientist or something like that. In a period
piece you might research a different time. But really hes
just a normal guy.
Q. What feedback have you had about your performance in the
A. Mainly, Ive just heard from friends and other actors,
everybodys been incredibly supportive and thought it was
a terrific movie. It doesnt concern me that some might think
it was an unnecessary risk or anything like that, thats
the kind of thing actors love to do. So the reaction Im
getting is like what a great opportunity and what
a great character this was.
Q. Any level of success must, presumably, mean that you get
offered similar characters to play in subsequent films doesnt
A. Ive definitely gone through phases of being offered the
same role each time. That trend was probably more identifiable
after My Best Friends Wedding. I avoided doing some of that
then, so I didnt get further locked into that type of character.
I dont want to give the impression that I was beating people
away at the door, it was just a period where I could be a little
more selective. What Ive found is that the roles that I
enjoy generally, aside from having a great script and a great
director and all those things, are the roles that are furthest
away from myself.
Q. It must also be interesting to watch someone like Jack
Nicholson work, as he is really a fine character actor who also
happens to be a movie star.
A. I dont think that this movie would have even been made
unless [writer-director] Alexander Payne was already known for
two extraordinary films and Jack Nicholson was attached to it.
I cant imagine anybody playing this part other than Jack.
There are very few others who could have done it, and after seeing
the way he played that role you cant imagine anybody else
Q. From what we know of the real Jack Nicholson, Warren Schmidt
is a quite different person. Is that a fair judgement?
A. Jack is definitely different from Warren Schmidt. But as
we were working on the movie he was not the Jack Nicholson that
I expected. It wasnt method acting so much, or that he was
in character all the time, he just chose to focus on this role.
He was all business, and none of the wisecracking Jack that you
kind of expected. It was very interesting to see how intense he
was in this role. I dont know that he was that concerned
about being one of the guys, it was clear to everyone on the film
how he was approaching the role with this level of intensity and
focus. He was really in the zone through the whole thing.
Q. Do you find yourself observing these older stars and picking
up useful tips from them?
A. I certainly learn more by watching these people rather than
by bugging them with a bunch of questions. What I see in people
like Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman and this is true of
Glenn Close as well, who Ive just worked with is
the level of preparation and the seriousness of their approach
to these roles. Theres no substitute for it. With some actors
I think theres an inclination to want to keep it fresh and
be spontaneous all the time. But Im starting to think that
the way to do it is to know your stuff, to come to the set prepared
then just buckle down and work hard.
Q. Of course, whatever level of success you find your feet
are kept on the ground by your three-year-old son, Clyde, arent
A. I learned my place in the scheme of things on day one of being
a father, and its been reinforced every day for the last
three and a half years. Its definitely reframed my perspective,
theres no doubt about it, but for the better.