Jack Nicholson wanted to give up acting, but one role changed his mind

Jack Nicholson is today a famous actor with the most Oscar nominations, however, it took him more than ten years to break into the world of film

by Sededin Dedovic
Jack Nicholson wanted to give up acting, but one role changed his mind
© Roy Jones / Getty Images

Jack Nicholson, known today as one of the most successful actors with numerous Oscar nominations, faced a long and difficult road before breaking into the film world. His journey began in 1955, but Hollywood offered him only minor supporting roles and brief appearances, leaving him discouraged.

In the mid-'60s, Nicholson, convinced that success as an actor was elusive, considered changing gears within the film industry, exploring opportunities in screenwriting. According to Far Out magazine, Nicholson wrote the screenplay for the 1967 psychedelic film "The Trip" directed by Roger Corman and starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern and Susan Strasberg.

Nicholson's talent as a writer impressed Fonda and Hopper, leading them to offer him a role in "Easy Rider" two years later. This decision turned out to be crucial and forever changed the course of the 32-year-old actor's life.

Shot on a modest budget of $400,000, "Easy Rider" became a seminal representation of the counterculture in American filmography, grossing $60 million worldwide. The 1969 road movie follows two hippies, Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), on a motorcycle trip across the US.

Nicholson's character, George Hanson, an alcoholic attorney, joins them after they are bailed out of a New Mexico prison. The trio embarks on a trip to New Orleans to experience Mardi Gras. The role of George Hanson catapulted Nicholson to worldwide fame almost overnight.

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Nicholson became a symbol of American counterculture and a new face in cinema. In an interview with The Talks, when asked about the highlight of his life, Nicholson pointed to the screening of "Easy Rider" at the Cannes Film Festival.

"The first screening of 'Easy Rider' in Cannes," he said, "When I saw the screening, I realized that I was actually going to be a world star." Before the Cannes premiere, Nicholson considered a career change, considering directing because of his extensive experience in the film industry.

Despite a good reputation in Hollywood, it was not enough to secure leading roles. Fortunately, "Easy Rider" marked a turning point in Nicholson's life, giving him the opportunity to continue acting. Reflecting on the film's impact, he noted, "It kind of turned my life around and it was definitely a highlight."