Joker vs Penguin
When they’re not furthering the course of evil in Gotham City, Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito like doing nothing better than making biopics of American trade union leaders. Alan Morrison met them to discuss the merits of Hoffa.
In the lilting manner that only Hollywood could conjure up. Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito got to know each other in an asylum. ()kay. nowadays Tinseltown friendships might more commonly be forged inside the Betty Ford Clinic or at AA meetings. but it seems entirely appropriate that the lunatic villains of the two Batman movies should ' meet in a mental hospital. Or at least on the set of the : I975 Oscar-winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo 's Nest. Since then. their friendship has remained steady ; as their careers have taken their own idiosyncratic shapes: Nicholson slipping further and further into self-parody before being redeemed by his 1 performance as Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. and DeVito following the cult role of Louie in TVs Taxi with various film appearances and directorial successes (Throw Momma From The Train, The War 5 of the Roses).
Now they are bringing their Little and Large routine to the UK in order to promote Hoffa - directed by DeVito, starring Nicholson — a re-creation of the adult life ofJimmy Hoffa. the former boss of America‘s most powerful trade union. the Teamsters. 5 Hoffa? Was he the one who kept secret files and liked dressing up in little black numbers? No. that was Hoover. Ehm. was he the one who built a fortune from publishing photos of naked and semi-naked I women? No. that was Heffner. Despite the intriguing ; biopies that these two others might have inspired. the duo have plumped instead for a key ﬁgure in the American labour movement. barely known on this side of the Atlantic — and that for his Mafia connections than his struggles for the working man.
America. however, is currently in the process of rewriting its history through cinema. whether by correcting the excesses of the Western in Dances With Wolves. opening up political cans of worms with JFK or demythologising an individual figure as in Malcolm X. Hojfa falls into this last category. but it was only after reading David Mamet‘s script that DeVito himself discovered there was more to the man than mob strong-arm tactics.
‘When I grew up. I believed pretty much like many others — I thought he was a thug.‘ admits DeVito. husband of Cheers waitress Rhea Perlman. ‘When I read the screenplay. I questioned. Was this Jimmy Hoffa? and I started to do a massive amount of
research. which led me to believe that the majority of things I was fed as a young man was a mud-slinging and slandering of this individual. What was going on was a systematic attack, not on the leaders of the union. but on the union itself, the breaking down of any power the unions may have had. I think he wasn't afraid to go on the picket line and get a fat lip in the came of labour. to fight those goons who were hired by the bosses. My dad always told me that there are three sides to every story, and what I wanted to do was have this epic character portrayed in scope. in epic proportions.‘
‘lt tomorrow I found a wonderful screenplay about St Francis of Assisi, or whatever, I’d be there. I always think of
Jack in terms of these terriny grand religious tigures.’
Unfortunately DeVito‘s enthusiasm doesn't transfer to the big screen. What we have instead is a powerful set piece frotn Nicholson placed within a series of factual. historical tableaux. so that the audience is left knowing the how but not the why. It's watchable stuff, enlightening but hardly entertaining. And apart from the chance to do some real acting and hang out on set with his buddy. one wonders what attracted Nicholson to such an uncommercial subject.
‘Well.’ he drawls. taking off the obligatory shades and giving us a ﬂash of his fake leopard-skin shoes, ‘my social responsibility as a young workman was always to be in some way a social propagandist. but I don't think propaganda is nearly as effective as l thougtht it was then. Like Hoffa. there‘s an ocean of misconception about me. but I think l‘m looked at more positively. I think l receive the beneﬁts of the
ON FDLLOING PAGES: CANDYMAN O SCENT OF A WOMAN O TOYS
Danny [1th0 and Jack Nicholson taco the press In "one
misconceptions in about the same proportion that : he‘s disadvantaged. After all. nobody likes anyone who has as much fun as I do.’
The other side of the equation is. of course. why did DeVito want Nicholson on the project when it would guarantee studio support at the expense of throwing the movie out of balance. ‘I wanted desperately to do it.‘ the director admits. ‘and I knew he was bom to play the part. If tomorrow I found a wonderful screenplay about St Francis of Assisi. or whatever. id be there. I always think of Jack in terms of these terribly grand religious figures.‘
Hmm. But then again, maybe Nicholson. recently a father for the first time. does view the world from a new moral standpoint. as evinced by his comments on Hollywood‘s over-indulgence in violence: ‘I personally have been pulling back on that inside my own work for quite a while. I think it’s horrible.
i Every eight minutes you either fuck somebody or kill somebody. and that’s it. That's too limiting. I won’t quit. because I like hanging around people. but ifl
. was 35. I‘d quit the movie business if it‘s gonna be that limited for me.‘
It is. however. extremely unlikely that Nicholson will make an exit from the tnovie world. given the unfeasibly large amounts of money he can command with a flick of his wrist. With the paychecks continuing to roll in thanks to the deal he managed to squeeze out of Warners for his over-the-top antics in l Batman. you can imagine how he might be tempted to give the white greasepaint and purple suit another outing. Maybe even team up with his current sidekick. and add the Penguin to the Joker's pack.
‘Well. I definitely would.’ he says with that trademark ear-to-ear grin. ‘but I don’t know about Danny. After my fees. there probably wouldn't be any left for anyone else. I only take it to keep respect. you know.‘
Hoffa opens in Scotland on Friday I 9 March.
The List 12 —-25 March l99315