Nick Nolte has lived quite a life. He’s made a lot of pictures but the one many fans remember was his DUI photo of a few years ago. It wasn’t flattering. In his new autobiography he addresses it along with many other aspects of his very colorful life.
Nolte is also an enigma. His star shown as bright as any other in his heyday. He had fame, big paydays, romances with famous women and his choice of top scripts. He was just as likely to take questionably commercial scripts, play very flawed characters, get bad press, and battle many of his own demons.
Looking at Nolte today, you notice the years of hard living. At one time, he was arguably Robert Redford handsome and voted the sexiest man alive. Something else you notice is his deep, squeaky voice, no doubt from his years of heavy smoking and drinking.
From the late 1970s into the 1990s, Nolte was a leading man. As he aged, his weight went up and down. When you thought his leading man days were over, he surprised everyone and morphed back into the handsome figure opposite Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts. Even into his later career, Nolte was getting starring roles, a result of his ability to play both comedy and drama, and fit comfortably into character roles.
One of the things had always impressed me about Nolte was he never took himself too seriously. He had a persona onscreen much like Burt Reynolds, not the good ole boy, but the affable and flawed character who messed up but ultimately wanted to do right. He didn’t apologize for his own flaws, they were just part of him. From 48 Hours to North Dallas Forty to Cannery Row to Teachers to Graves, there was a human quality to his disheveled, out-of-shape, authority-fighting characters.
Nolte wasn’t one to hide behind a press agent, he got plenty of bad press with divorces, wild living and his brush with the law. He didn’t flaunt or hide his mistakes, he just owned them. I never felt like his performances were untrue. He could revel in the underbelly of a character’s life, playing it for what made that character interesting or important to the story.
In North Dallas Forty, his character was battling age, football culture, and an organization trying to get rid of him because he wouldn’t conform. He didn’t believe in conditioning, he partied and did drugs, his body was falling apart, and in the end he wouldn’t play the game – and the game got rid of him. This is one of his best performances.
Cannery Row, based on the works of John Steinbeck, is an odd little gem, but a delight. His character is measured and unlike his other roles. He is the most normal character in the film, the others are quirky and somewhat allegorical in the story. The film was rife with problems and a box office disappointment. Find it on cable or stream it.
The Deep, Nolte’s first big film, was based on a Peter Benchley ( Jaws) bestseller. As a film, The Deep was popular but was viewed as a disappointment, compared to the Jaws phenomenon. This film was a big step up for Nolte and although he was the star, the real star was Jacqueline Bisset’s wet t-shirt. We all remember that. Nolte was just a board piece in the film but he proved that he belonged in the big game. Long blonde hair with a droopy mustache and blue eyes. This film made him a movie star, but he was more concerned with being a good actor in quality roles.
Following 48 Hours, Nolte’s films were somewhat disappointments, projects not really challenging or up to his talent.
A few years later, Nolte got a bit of a career resurgence with Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a big hit and a film where he got the best part but didn’t have to do the heavy lifting. In 1991, he got another huge career lift when he made The Prince of Tides for Barbra Streisand, and earned an Academy Award nomination. This led to a string of generally well-received films: Cape Fear, Lorenzo’s Oil, Jefferson in Paris, Mulholland Falls and Afterglow. His performances were praised in all of these roles. In 1997 he was nominated for Best Actor for Affliction, a film that won James Coborn an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
In the 2000s, Nolte took generally smaller roles or smaller films. In 2015, he co-starred with Robert Redford as old friends taking a Walk in the Woods. Nolte shines in this oddball comedy and it put him back in the spotlight.
Lately, he is seen as Graves, a cable television series where Nolte plays a former President of the United States. Nolte’s character is in a position to make up for what he regrets. Although not a comedy, the show allows his character to explore the ends of the emotional scale. Nolte looks to be having fun with this role.
Back when he played in the mini series, Rich Man, Poor Man, he was 35 years old, so his career got off to a late start, but she moved up quickly. Today, he is 77, and going strong. Nolte survived the sexiest man alive thing, as well as his brushes with the law and even got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I don’t regret any of them. Sometimes that’s the only way you learn.” – Nick Nolte