Jack Nicholson is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest actors to grace the screen. His roles in the likes of A Few Good Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Departed, remain legendary.
It was in the last of these, The Departed, that Jack Nicholson proved how he was able to elevate the best movies beyond what was on the page. The Departed, which was released in 2006, is rightly considered as an example of the best thriller movies, especially within the crime genre. Under the direction of Martin Scorsese, a brilliant cast aligned with a dark script to create one of the all-time greats.
In the movie, Nicholson stars opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as the sociopathic crime boss Frank Costello. It’s one of the actor’s most memorably brilliant performances, as he manages to balance his brutal unpredictability with a cold charm. Never is that dichotomy more apparent than in the famous scene in which Costello has a bloody, severed hand on his desk during a conversation with DiCaprio’s Billy.
But, the hand wasn’t in the script: as per Martin Scorses himself, speaking with GQ, it was all Nicholson’s idea.
“There was a scene where he’s eating a lobster lunch in his apartment and he has this kid come in. The basic line [of dialogue] was, ‘What can you do for me? You wanna work with me tough guy, what can you do for me?’ I’d seen that scene many times. And Nicholson called me and said: ‘What if, while we’re at lunch, on the table in a little plastic bag is a severed human hand?’ I said, ‘Now that’s a job interview.'”
Scorsese went on to explain how it was a perfect addition to the scene, not only because it summarized the brutality of Nicholson’s character with his nonchalant intimidation, but also because it effectively showed that he was losing his mind as he lost control of the situation around him.
Nicholson’s recommendation ended up being the perfect addition to the scene, adding more dimension to the character without a single additional word of dialogue.
That wasn’t the only change Nicholson made to the script, either. Alongside Damon, Nicholson almost single-handedly crafted another of the movie’s darkest scenes with the “she fell funny” line. He doesn’t get called one of the best actors in the history of cinema for nothing.
Though it doesn’t feature the now-retired Nicholson, we still can’t wait for Scorsese’s new movie with the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon release date. You can read our Killers of the Flower Moon review for more details. If you want to swap to a slightly less heavy genre, check out what’s going on with Avatar 3, before seeing how Robin Williams lost one of the best ever movie villain roles due to Nicholson.