Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

If you asked audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, they would probably tell you it was more than just entertaining. And it?s a fair guess that they didn?t really notice the music. In fact, for a few days in the south of France last spring, all anyone could talk about was Nicholson?s performance as Warren Schmidt, a man in his 60s who realizes he?s squandered his life. ”Oh! I?d be very surprised if he weren?t nominated,” says Payne of the actor?s Oscar chances. ”I hate hyping anything, but he seems like a shoo-in because Hollywood loves him and his performance is so exquisite.”

Of course, actually getting that performance took more than half a decade. In the early ?90s, fresh out of film school, Payne took his first writing job in Hollywood. ”I wrote an early draft of what became ‘About Schmidt’ called ‘The Coward,”’ he says. ”But when I finished that screenplay the studio [Universal] laughed in my face. So then I went off to make something far more commercial, which was, of course, the abortion comedy ‘Citizen Ruth.”’

A Sundance favorite, ”Ruth” was followed by the 1999 political satire ”Election,” for which Payne and cowriter Jim Taylor were nominated for a best screenplay Oscar. Soon thereafter, Payne came across Louis Begley?s two darkly comic novels ”About Schmidt” and ”Schmidt Delivered.” With Taylor?s help, the director lifted narrative devices from Begley?s books and grafted them onto his old script, which was not based on the novels — creating a draft that would eventually catch Nicholson?s eye.

After a six-month casting process, it was decided that Squibb (”Meet Joe Black”) would be Schmidt?s beaten-down wife, Davis (”Arlington Road”) his estranged daughter, Mulroney (”My Best Friend?s Wedding”) her mullet-sporting fiancé, and Bates — who has a very up-close-and-personal hot-tub scene — Mulroney?s mother. ”The very first day we did this phone scene,” says Davis. ”It was just me on the other end of the line with [Nicholson]. After one take I was like, ?Omigod! He?s it! He?s really amazing!”’ Not to hype the movie or anything.

THE LOWDOWN Jack, it appears, is back.

About Schmidt
  • Movie
  • 124 minutes