WHAT I’VE LEARNED: NICK NOLTE
The veteran movie actor and wild man of Malibu gives us his nuggets of wisdom hard-earned from a life extremely well lived
malibu is quite boring. After you live here for about 10 years, you start to miss the seasons. I’ve seen one frost in my 50 years here. That doesn’t mean I want to spend a winter in the North of England or Waterloo, Iowa. You can have enough of snow.
i like to grow my own food. I made a smart decision about 30, 40 years ago to build waisthigh planters on the property. You don’t have to bend over.
when i wake up in the morning now, I am quite often reminded of overdoing things the day before. Literally, a rude awakening. They say old age creeps up on you, but it moves quicker than that.
on the set of the deep, the great English director Karel Reisz came to watch me work. We were filming a stunt I wasn’t needed for, so I got into a little foam game, letting off fire extinguishers with the prop guys. Karel wanted me for his next film, but I didn’t know him, and when we were introduced later, I realised I’d pissed away the day in front of this phenomenal director. Karel said, “Do you mind if I give you a little critique? When you work, I don’t think it’s good to spend so much time entertaining the crew.” From that day, I used my energy on set for acting, not goofing off.
people talk about “taking risks”. They’re not really talking about risks. If you live in the moment, it’s not a risk at all, you’re just living in the moment. It takes all the weight out of the decision. Once you can do that, things don’t become so heavy on you.
when i was selling fake draft cards I don’t think it was an intentional criminal act. It was stupidity. I was driving a hearse at the time; the engine gave out and we rolled it off a cliff. It landed on the ninth green of the country club golf course, and the pack of 1,000 fake IDs I’d left in there fell out. That’s how I was caught. The judge sentenced me [in 1961] to 45 years, suspended. It was fate. All meant to happen. it is only through failure that you learn. Failure really puts bite to a task, and you will examine all the elements that contribute to failure. Nothing is examined when you succeed, so you try to repeat the success with no idea of what really made it happen.
what do women see in me? Not much, I think. My mother was a strong, liberated woman before women’s lib. She stressed the importance of the individual, and a person’s creativity, so I saw that from a young age. I never had a “type” when it came to women.
i have a 10-year-old daughter and it’s a blessing. For her, it’s rather difficult. She calls me Grandad, because all her friends’ dads are about 30 years younger than me. It’s the right time for me, though. I have the time and the patience for her. It’s a precious gift.
on the subject of drugs, I told my son that he can experiment, but not to go past the experimental phase. It hasn’t come up with my daughter yet. When my son was a teenager, some of his friends from Malibu High were living with us. There was an editorial in the The Malibu Times about a “surf mafia father” and “drug kingpin” taking care of these kids. It really upset me. All rumours. We just had parties there because that’s where all the kids were. And I never surfed! Where are those kids now? They all went to college. A couple are doctors, one works at Apple. My son is nearly through med school.
the possibility of war is smacking humanity in the face right now, but it is much harder for a world war to break out than it once was. But, given the sorts of presidents we can elect, I don’t know how foolish they can be.
we all have biases we do not admit to. They lay in there, even if you’ve worked hard on them, and you’ve got to flush them out. My mother told us we would have a black person living with us. So we did. As a fashion buyer, she had young female assistants, almost always black, and they would live with us. i just started a paleo diet. No carbohydrates, no sugar, no alcohol. Smoking’s gone, too. The weight just dropped off. Cut it back to eating out of your own garden, basically. Wild meat: buffalo — no beef. No antibiotics. I’m not in terrific shape quite yet, but I will be.
a double-bill of my best work would be Affliction and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. No, wait, maybe Who’ll Stop the Rain and The Prince of Tides. The first thing I did, Rich Man, Poor Man, I played [a character who ages] from 16 to 44. That was pretty good. I’ve done a lot.
i like to read every day, and not to escape. I’m reading a great book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M Sapolsky. It’s about the brain, and unlearning all you think you know about it. You have to learn a little terminology, but I don’t mind that. I subscribe to New Scientist. Have done for years. It’s so much better than Scientific American. It touches on everything going on.
i don’t watch films or go to the theatre any more. What gets my artistic passions up is working with marble. My sister started doing it. It took her seven years to carve this 12-by-12by-six-inch-thick piece. You get a piece of marble, from America or Italy, and you get the kit with the hammer and the carving tools, then just have at it. The stone chips out right along the line you want. You have to screw up good to make a mistake. You might not know exactly what you’re carving. It’s that old concept: if you don’t know where to begin, just start.
if i had one trip in a time machine, I would go to the future. The changes the future holds! How are we going to deal with gene editing? That’s just one scratch in the amount of new knowledge coming.
retirement doesn’t seem to be in my vocabulary. What would I retire from? Myself? If I had to work every day, it might be an issue. A three-month run isn’t a difficult thing. A three-month run of no work is kind of hard to do. You’ve got to fill your days.