“The only people who ever called me a rebel were people who wanted me to do what they wanted.” — Nick Nolte

It’s Nick Nolte’s birthday.

He has always been one of my all-time favorites, and despite the odds – or maybe because of the odds – and his personal struggles – it’s a thrill that he is still with us, still pushing himself, still going deep as the Mariana Trench in his work. As always, with someone who goes as deep as he does (and he started OUT that way), there’s a little bit of mystery involved – because it’s not JUST talent. Or … with him, it shows that talent looks different on different people. Maybe his talent is the ability to go as deep as he goes, into the most brutal unforgiving shameful places of our human lives. But … that’s not about talent. I would say this is a LIFE skill, more than “acting talent” – the willingness to LOOK at what SUCKS about himself. The willingness to SHOW that to others. This is what Nolte does.

“To allow the fear to come on you and then pass through. If you keep cutting the fear off by intervening – let’s say, taking a Xanax to try to cure it – you’ll never understand what fear is really for. Fear is part of a survival mechanism. The way you conquer fear is to feel it all the way, and then you’ll find out that there’s nothing there – it’s just emotion.” — Nick Nolte

I’ve mentioned him in passing many times on my site, but there are two pieces in particular where I zoomed in on this aspect of him.

The first is a piece I wrote about one moment in North Dallas Forty where he, as they say – or as I say – “drops in”. He drops in to the moment, or – into himSELF – and it’s like he plunges to the center of the earth in one breath.

When I had my column at Film Comment, I devoted an entire column to the career of Nick Nolte, focusing especially on this aspect of him – that willingness to look into and SHOW his own darkness, flaws, failings, his shame. Shame is such a terrible experience people LIE to avoid feeling it. He never lies.

His acting gift is awe-inspiring.

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7 Responses to “The only people who ever called me a rebel were people who wanted me to do what they wanted.” — Nick Nolte

  1. My sample size is small, but my favorite movie of his is TEACHERS, a comedy-drama from 1986 or thereabouts. Nolte is a teacher in a big urban school where a lot of education-related stories (many of which are really dark) play out. Nolte’s character hasn’t quite lost his commitment to the ideals of teaching, and Nolte is pitch-perfect in the role, somehow creating a guy who is both deeply cynical and soaringly idealistic at the same time. (Ralph Macchio is in the movie too as a delinquent whom Nolte is struggling to reach, and reach him he does…in some ways that are pretty unpredictable.)

    • sheila says:

      Wow – I don’t think I’ve seen this – despite the presence of RALPH MACCHIO (oh, and Nolte too) – gonna rectify this immediately. It sounds great!

  2. Bill Wolfe says:

    Nolte starred in my favorite Vietnam-related movie, Who’ll Stop the Rain. A remarkable physical performance, as well as a pitch-perfect emotional one. I’ve been following him since Rich Man, Poor Man and have rarely been disappointed.

    And, funnily enough, my wife and I were watching a PBS documentary about the history of blue jeans last night in which there was a shot of a magazine ad from around 1970 featuring a young Nick Nolte! Serenditpity.

    • sheila says:

      Rich Man Poor Man was huge for him in terms of visibility.

      a PBS doc about the history of blue jeans?? that sounds so interesting!

  3. lily dale says:

    He is a very fine stage actor as well. I saw him play Starbuck in The Rainmaker in Phoenix nearly 60 years ago. Great experience – I remember it to this day.

  4. Larry Aydlette says:

    We’ve talked about it before, but the breakdown scene in The Prince of Tides. And the “overacting” that leads up to it. Except it’s his character acting out, not overacting, and it’s devastating when the breakdown scene comes. Brando couldn’t have done it better. Props to Nick — and Barbra.

    • sheila says:

      Oh God, yes, that scene. and I love your comment about the overacting – that is so true, and he does it so well. It’s exhausting. He’s exhausting!! and nobody really clocks that he’s doing it – he’s “acting” like a person.

      When the mask cracks it is just heart-wrenching – and like you say “Brando couldn’t have done it better” – it takes so much control and technique to give a performance like the one Nolte gives. He can’t give it away – he can’t let us see what’s underneath.

      so good.

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