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About Schmidt – imagined dialogue Nicholson, Producer

Df: Actuary someone who found accountancy too exciting

Df: Actuary someone who found accountancy too exciting

About Schmidt – Alexander Payne

The late Pauline Kael – one of the consistently best writers on movies for over 30 years and the feistiest, had a pet hate: meretricious movies cynically calculated in conception and performance to manipulate easy emotion and worse, to plug into the worthy sentimentality characteristic of the Oscar Academy members.

Ms Kael inevitably came to mind when I saw About Schmidt. A regular review of this film would be as boring and depressing as the movie itself. But something needed saying. So I tried something different; a bit of fun and perhaps diverting. I ask you to imagine the process leading up to the casting and development of this movie. Even if you haven’t seen it (lucky you) you may perhaps get the gist.

(Phone rings)
“Jack?”
“Uh?”
“Harv”
“Uh Huh”
“Have you read the script?”
“Script?”
“Schmidt”
“Lighten up Harv. Heavy night”
“No Jack…Schmidt, Schmidt”
“Old guy..pathetic..right?”
“Well, sort of.”
“Harv….I should do this movie….why?”
“Quick shoot, 5 mil, and an Oscar.”
“Percentage?”
“You don’t want it.”
“Why not?”
“It won’t make any money.”
“Why not?”
“Cos it’s depressing as hell. And word gets around.”
“Am I missing something here Harv?”
“Oscar Jack. The old Golden Baldie.”
“Old guy’s a retired Actuary.. right?”
“Yeah”
“What’s an Actuary Harv?”
“Well Jack – he’s sort of like an Accountant who found accountancy too exciting.”
“Harv… you have to help me here. I make this depressing as hell movie, about a pathetic, old….exceptionally boring guy and they give me an Oscar? How come?”
“Genius Jack. Your acting genius. Think…’As Good As It Gets’ without the humour; think…’The Straight Story’ without that goddam tractor. It’s got everything Jack…pain, pathos, tragedy; and courageous Jack Nicholson acting old and ugly. It’s a shoe-in. The Academy and the Indie audience love that kinda sh**. C’mon…whaddya think?”
“Inspirational Harv. Any other plusses?”
“Well you get to share a Jacuzzi with a naked Kathy Bates…(silence)….Jack? Jack, don’t hang up on me. Jack? You still there?”
“Thinkin’ Harv. Letting my hormones run riot.”
“Aw c’mon Jack. Think of it as a challenge.”
“Harv…at the moment, getting outta bed’s a challenge. This movie, in contrast, sounds like a crock of sh**.”
“Trust me Jack. Another Oscar’ll double your fee and set up the lifetime achievement award.”
“Any kids in this movie Harv?” I smell a kid somewhere. You know I don’t do kids.”
“It’s beautiful Jack. You adopt this African kid by post for $25 bucks a month. But…get this Jack ….you never have to meet him. You just voice-over letters to him. Good opportunity for that great voice of yours Jack. We may shoot a scene of you reading to a kid just for marketing…but we won’t put it in the movie. And Jack…you haven’t heard the best yet.”
“Go on Harv…hit me.”
“You get to cry Jack.”
“Harv…have you gone f****** mad?”
“Jack. Jack…listen. See the headlines….’Nicholson cries’.
“Sounds like a f****** Barbie Doll ad Harv.”
“Jack, picture it. Oscar night. Nicole picks up hers after a clip showing her nudging the dead sparrow with that bloody wonderful nose….and then you…hard man Nicholson….full close up….your eyes well up….and one or two tears roll down your cheeks cos a $25 a month, 6-year-old African kid sent you a drawing. Genius Jack. Ingemar eat your heart out.”
“Johanssen right? Swedish heavyweight champ in the 60’s?”
“Aw c’mon Jack…Bergman…Ingemar Bergman.
“You got a dictionary Harv?”
“Sure”
“Look up ‘irony’ – starts with an ‘i’.
“Jack?”
“Yes Harv?”
“How do you feel about a limp?”
“A limp what Harv?”
“Well we were thinking about maybe a stroke or a hip replacement after your wife dies.”
“Forget it Harv….I’ll just shuffle a lot, like old guys do.”
“That’s cool Jack.”
“Jack… word’s out they’re casting Saddam Hussein for a major project. You up for it?”
“Can I do it straight?”
“Christ! Is Saddam gay?”
“No Harv…..can I play him as he is?”
“How is he Jack?”
“Sh***ing himself at the moment I should think….Who’s up for Bush?”
“Jim Carey’s in the frame”
“Figures……Harv?….”
“Yes Jack?”
“As Saddam…..would I have to lose?”
“That’s tricky Jack……we may have to negotiate.”
“Harv?”
“Yes Jack?”
“Did you catch this Brit guy Ali G on HBO last night? Christ, he was funny”
“Jack, don’t say anything to anyone about liking that guy. The press crucified him today.”
“Well he is Jewish Harv.”
“Sorry Jack but I have to tell you, he was really
tasteless; jokes about 9/11…is nothing sacred?”
“Harv?”
“Yes Jack?”
“The i’s come after ‘h’ in the dictionary”……bye.”

Inside Track: to achieve the dramatic emotional climax in ‘ About Schmidt’ – Jack Nicholson crying on camera – after many failed attempts, they hit on the idea of showing Nicholson the film from the beginning……worked a dream. Now that’s genius.

(July 2004)

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