Jack Nicholson, left, Kathleen Turner, director John Huston and Anjelica Huston pose for a publicity shot for 'Prizzi's Honor' (1985).

For, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: With ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ getting a Blu-ray upgrade (see below), it’s time to trot out my interview with Jack Nicholson, such as it was, published in the Deseret News on June 14, 1985, under the headline ‘Jack’s research into Mafia role not quite what he anticipated. This also turned into an essay on how movie junkets can sometimes go bust.

NEW YORK — It sounded like a worthwhile two-movie junket — one of those trips offered by major studios where critics from around the country see a couple of new films and interview its stars.

The first film was “Cocoon” and the second “Prizzi’s Honor.”

“Prizzi’s Honor” is an offbeat black comedy about a hit man who falls in love with a hit woman, marries her and eventually they both find themselves being contracted to kill the other.

Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner star as the couple, with a meaty supporting role handled by Anjelica Huston, daughter of the film’s director, the legendary John Huston.

When the 20th Century-Fox representative called to offer the trip, he had good news and bad news. The good news was Nicholson and the two Hustons would be there. The bad news was that Turner would not (she is currently shooting a film in Morocco, “Jewel of the Nile,” sequel to “Romancing the Stone”), and it would have to be a press conference rather than the usual round-robin interviews that allow for more intimacy with the stars.

Still, that didn’t sound so bad. With just the three of them, an hourlong press conference would allow for plenty of time to pose probing questions — and Nicholson and Huston in any format would have to be interesting.

A later phone call preceding the junket said John Huston would not be in attendance after all, as he was ill. But then an even later call indicated he would be there after all.

When the junket finally started in New York City a couple of weeks ago, Fox found itself fraught with problems. A hotel strike began the Friday everyone arrived, and the Plaza Hotel, where we stayed, was stripped of its services. On the “Cocoon” side of the junket, many journalists complained that Wilford Brimley, the lead player in the film’s ensemble, was not in attendance.

Then came word about the “Prizzi’s Honor” side.

John Huston was not going to be in attendance. No big surprise.

And because Nicholson, a rabid L.A. Lakers fan, wanted to see a scheduled basketball game against the Boston Celtics, the press conference would be held Saturday night in the theater after the screening of the film, rather than Sunday morning in the hotel.


       William Hickey, left, Robert Loggia, 'Prizzi's Honor'

Well, that still sounded OK. Having an hour or so with just Nicholson and Anjelica Huston would allow for more than enough questions and answers to provide a good, meaty story on Nicholson for our cover.

Saturday night came and the movie was shown in a small, narrow theater loaded with press, and a smattering of the public to fill in the empty chairs. “Prizzi’s Honor” was generally well received, and when it was over the public was ushered out. Then, after a brief wait, Nicholson and crew came down the aisle.

A table was set up in front of the screen and after a brief photo session, they took their seats. But it wasn’t just Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. The panel also included co-star William Hickey, producer John Foreman, author of the book (and co-author of the screenplay) Richard Condon, and co-screenwriter Janet Roach.

As I observed how many celebrities were to be interviewed, and how the narrow theater — with Fox public-relations people standing in the aisles — did not allow many of us to even see the panel, I began to be a bit dismayed at how this might all work out.

It did not work out well.

The press conference was short, the sound system was lousy (and those of us who were not in front couldn’t hear most of the questions), and oddly enough, Hickey tended to dominate, going on and on rather incoherently about things that only remotely related to questions asked of others. Roach never had an opportunity to speak even a word, and Nicholson and Huston were not able to say enough.

Worse, about 90 percent of the writers present were unable to ask any questions.

Still, there’s always enough for a story. Here are a few highlights gleaned from a less-than-satisfactory question-and-answer session:

The first question — more a statement actually — came from a female writer who was offended by the ending of the film, claiming it was a blow to feminism. Condon responded that he was simply trying to write a love story about “two people in a rather different business. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl.” He said he never considered it as an affront to the women’s movement.

Condon also said he felt the film was “utterly faithful” to his novel.


        Anjelica Huston, Jack Nicholson, 'Prizzi's Honor'

Nicholson acknowledged “Prizzi’s Honor” as a black comedy, then, with tongue firmly in cheek, described it as “A ‘Father Knows Best’ of the ’80s. A ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ and ‘Henry V.’

“I’ve never done anything quite like it — in those ways, it’s very different. In other ways, it’s a bit like ‘Beat the Devil,’ which happens to be one of my favorite of John Huston’s films.” Nicholson later added that this is not his first attempt at comedy. “There’s a lot of comedy in the most successful films I’ve done — ‘(One Flew Over the) Cuckoo’s Nest,’ “Terms of Endearment.’ This is black because all of the jokes are about dark things — murder , etc.”

Nicholson described John Huston as “the most important living filmmaker,” and said Huston “takes the atmosphere that he’s taking all the risks — nobody wants to be the person that messes up on a John Huston picture.”

Someone commented on the film being an odd combination of ’50s, ’60s and ’80s sensibilities, with various elements of physical evidence to belie any particular period setting. Anjelica Huston said that was intentional: “I think it was my father’s intention to place it in the nebula.” Nicholson agreed: “If you do a movie in 1865, you want to give the actors a coin minted in 1865, but it’s always new instead. I want the old coin.

“The reality is to create the emotional timber of the story.”

Nicholson said he normally wants to find out everything he can about a character he’s going to play, but in this case he deliberately avoided that. “I liked everything I didn’t know, didn’t understand.” In that regard, Nicholson plays a very offbeat character, with his own mannerisms and speech affectations, and he is slightly less intelligent than most of Nicholson’s characters in the past.

Physically, he also adapted for the character, putting on weight and holding his mouth in such a way as to hide his upper teeth most of the time. “I’m not the first person to notice that Italians do not like to expose their upper teeth that much.”

To research his character, Nicholson said, “I went to a place where professionals hung out and I watched a couple of guys for a while.” The twosome went into a rest room, Nicholson said, and he followed them to listen to them talk. “It turned out they were two cooks from Atlantic City.” When the laughter subsided, he added with a shrug, “It’s not an environment you ask questions in.”

Later, asked again about researching his film roles, Nicholson said, “I thought I’d be studying gangsters, but I ended up studying two cooks from Atlantic City. In the end, though, it’s a fleshed-up character. Sometimes I think they do too much research anyway.”