Jack Nicholson's Most Iconic Roles: Easy Rider & Five Easy Pieces
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Nicholson’s Career-Defining Roles
Those peaking eye-brows. That wicked, sweeping smile. It could only be Jack Nicholson, one of the few actors capable of leading a career exemplary of the artistry and glamour of celebrity and do it like no other. His big acting break happened with his role in Dennis Hoppers and Peter Fonda‘s Easy Rider (1969) with his latest success being his turn as the Irish mobster, Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed (2006). Lending his talents to film for 60 plus years, we can gather from his acting chops and from his most iconic roles what, precisely, he brings to the screen that has kept moviegoers and creators wanting more.
Easy Rider (1969): “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Nicholson received his first Oscar nomination for his turn as an alcoholic lawyer named George Hanson in the cult film. It put the young actor into the company of “anti-hero” actors, such as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and simultaneously, an overnight hero of the counter-culture movement thanks to his seminal interpretation. It came to be the film’s most iconic part as well.
Unshaven and erratic, Nicholson fit right into the New Hollywood era’s spirit that was dominated by young, and innovative directors. Delivering the lines, “Here’s first of the day, fellas!” before taking a swig, he twists his face, then follows an unexpected reaction as he lifts his elbow and starts flapping his arm like a chicken’s wing while screeching an enigmatic: “Nik Nik Nik…” An impressive breakout role it was.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Not so comedic in the traditional sense, uncommon and original, Five Easy Pieces (1970) is a bleak and ambiguous tale filled with dark humor snippets. Embodying the sentiments of the 1970s, it appears to be in its own way a period piece unto itself as it captures the concept of an identity crisis of the time. For which we experience it through Nicholson’s character Robert Eroica Dupea, who plays a man that walks away from all that is expected of him.
While also running away from his prodigious gifts and doing it all with a cocky attitude and no explanation to why, is what resonated during the time. Like other films of the 70s, to explain one’s actions and way of life made it all trivial. Thus, there was no explaining yourself. And what better actor to play this role than the unhinged star Jack Nicholson? His work as the drifter Robert Eroica Dupea proved that Jack was a great character actor, too.