Jack Nicholson rose to fame with 1969’s Easy Rider, but his career goes all the way back to 1958, and one of his earliest roles was in the original version of The Little Shop of Horrors, where he played someone even scarier than The Shining’s Jack Torrance.
Many people are familiar with Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist from the ’80s musical version, but here Jack Nicholson plays a patient addicted to pain with an absolutely unhinged laugh — an inauspicious start for an actor who would go on to appear in some of the best movies of all time.
Nicholson’s one scene in The Little Shop of Horrors sees him as the brilliantly-named undertaker Wilbur Force, visiting Jonathan Haze’s Seymour, who is posing as a dentist. In the waiting room, he delightedly reads a magazine simply called PAIN. And he tells Seymour, “No novocaine, it dulls the senses!”
“I went into the shoot knowing I had to be very quirky because Roger originally hadn’t wanted me,” Nicholson would later recount in Roger Corman’s book How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. “In other words, I couldn’t play it straight. So I just did a lot of weird shit that I thought would make it funny.”
Now considered one of the best actors of all time, it’s very fun to see Nicholson getting his start playing an extremely weird guy (I mean, who likes going to the dentist?).
Nicholson would continue to pursue dark roles throughout the rest of his career – playing the literal Devil in The Witches of Eastwick and the greatest of Batman villains, the Joker in Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. He even manages to play a chillingly terrifying character in the courtroom drama A Few Good Men and an intimidating mobster in The Departed.