'Real Life is Kind of Hard For Me': A Candid Nick Nolte on Falling Off the Wagon For Warrior
After a career in Hollywood that has spanned four decades, two Oscar nominations, three wives and one notoriously bad mug shot -- Nick Nolte returns to the big screen this Friday with his most personal role yet: that of a former alcoholic who desperately seeks forgiveness from his mixed martial arts-fighter family (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) in Gavin O'Connor's Warrior. During the film's press day last month, both O'Connor and Nolte confessed that the struggles of Nolte's character Paddy O'Connor were based largely on the actor's own cycle of substance abuse, sobriety and redemption-seeking -- a cycle that sadly continued while the pair filmed Warrior in and around Pittsburgh last year.
Last month, the 70-year-old actor met with Movieline to discuss his R-rated Warrior adventures, his unlikely handgun crusade and the secret to playing a good, chain-restaurant-obsessed gorilla.
There are some interesting parallels between Warrior and your breakthrough project Rich Man, Poor Man 35 years ago. There, you played a working class boxer with a strained relationship with your brother. In Warrior, you're the estranged father of two working-class MMA fighters who go head-to-head in the ring, strained relationships all around. Do you think there is a reason why you're returning to these themes?
No, other than the fact that Gavin wanted to explore those themes. I was supposed to do [Gavin's 2008 drama] Pride & Glory as the father, and I bailed on him about two weeks before shooting because I had some problems. You would think that would end a relationship [with a director] but instead, it strengthened it.
Gavin said that he based your character on you, even incorporating some of your own experiences into the film. Is there anything you asked him to put into or take out of the script?
No, Gavin knows me pretty well. [Laughs] I did talk to Gavin about how to deal with the boys off camera considering that in the movie, they're not communicating with their father. I said, "I think it would probably be a good idea that I don't socialize with the boys. Should we go down that track even though it's extreme?" Gavin thought that was right because when actors socialize [in between takes], all the work that you do preparing that relationship is ruined. It gets too intimate and you can't get back out. It was safer this way.
Did you have any other suggestions for Gavin?
I told him, "Maybe I shouldn't drink while we film." He said, "Yeah, that would be a great idea." Well, I put myself in a hole right there. I'm in Pittsburgh a week and that goes out the window.
Did you have a local bar where you did your drinking?
No, I had this assistant and she had a boyfriend who was a little... [Pauses] Mixed-up. The assistant was a little mixed-up too. We had been rehearsing a week and I said to her, "Should we do the right thing and go home? Or do we do the wrong thing and go to a club and meet up with your boyfriend? I'll leave it up to you."
That was a terrible thing to do. Of course she said, "Let's meet with Bobby." We meet with Bobby even though I have to rehearse in the morning at 10 o'clock. Come 5 o'clock, we're still at this apartment. There was booze and you know, other stuff. We rolled into rehearsal the next morning and I went straight to Gavin's assistant and said, "Man, you wouldn't believe the night I had. There was more cocaine there, more alcohol, this guy with tattoos all over him and rings, this girl who wanted to leave with me but she had been with him for 10 years and he was threatening to kill me. We barely got out of there alive."
Again, oh no.
Of course, he repeated it to Gavin, who didn't say anything to me until after rehearsals. He pulled me aside and said, "What are we going to do, Nick? I trusted you, and the very first thing you do is violate the rules. Was it the assistant?" I said, "No, no. You can't [fire her]. It was me. Here's what I should do. I should hang out with Jimmy from Pittsburgh."
Now, Jimmy from Pittsburgh is a fictional name. We named him that, and that is the handle he has taken on back there. Jimmy from Pittsburgh is an ex-narcotics agent, and he is my age. I said, "I gotta hang out with Jimmy and I gotta do something for the city of Pittsburgh." Gavin said that was fine.
So what did you do for the city?
Well, Jimmy said, "I gotta great thing. We're going to go to the Steelers stadium and we're going to scroll the last three years of people that have been shot by handguns in Pittsburgh. The list is about 300 or 400 long. The mayor is going to speak, then I think he had a preacher who was going to speak, then Jimmy was going to speak and then he told me I was going to speak for twenty minutes. I said, "We'll do that."
So Jimmy swung by at 8 o'clock to pick me up. I got in the car and I could just tell that something was wrong. Jimmy said, "It's been bad." I said, "What happened?" He said, "Five cops got killed last night. Some kid shot them with handguns he had. There hasn't been anything like this." He said, "Son, this has turned into a big thing. The cardinal is going to be there, the mayor, the governor, the preacher. You're still going to speak for 20 minutes." So we went, we spoke and it was depressing. Everyone was down. The next day, Jimmy and I swung over to see this chief. Jimmy said they're were going to have little party for the kids and then he told me, "Nine of those kids are orphaned."
We got over there and it was all the guys in blue and the kids were freaked out. They were just scared. They had lost their dads and everything. So I told the guys, "Get the kids out of here and get the television reporters down here so we can have some fun on TV and goof around." So that's what we did.
Gavin's at home and he sees me on the TV with all the kids. Everyone sees me on TV, and the bus drivers would stop, the cab drivers would stop if they saw me on the street and say, "Hey Nick, need a ride?" Everything just worked out great.
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