It would have been easy for Jack Nicholson to just hang around off-camera while Reiner was getting Tom Cruise’s reactions. Instead, Nicholson decided to go all in. A movie is a team effort, after all, and when you’re in a scene, you want to help elevate the performance of the actor with whom you’re working. That’s exactly what Nicholson did, delivering his now-iconic closing dialogue with full intensity on each and every take — even though the cameras weren’t trained on him.
After the first few takes, Reiner started to grow concerned that maybe the actor was going to get burned out by firing away at Cruise every time he yelled “Action!” The director didn’t need to worry, though, as Nicholson assured him. As Reiner told Yahoo!:
“After a couple of takes, I said, ‘Jack, maybe you want to save a little bit for when we’ve got the camera on you.’ And he replied, ‘Rob, you don’t understand — I love to act.'”
In the end, Nicholson’s passion for acting proved to be the catalyst for one of the greatest courtroom showdowns in cinema. For all of the deserved praise Nicholson gets for his performance — capped off by what’s become one of the most famous quotes in movie history, “You can’t handle the truth!” — Cruise was equal to the task, delivering one of the best performances of his life. Given what a talented actor Cruise is, it’s fair to assume he still would have risen to the occasion even if a script supervisor was feeding him Nicholson’s lines. But thanks to the intense off-camera performance Nicholson delivered time and again, it helped turn a great scene into a legendary one.
/Film – ‘Slash Film: Even Off-Camera, Jack Nicholson Went Full Tilt For A Few Good Men’
Author: Jeff Kelly
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January 15, 2023