The three-time Oscar winner had been for around ten years Jack Nicholson no longer seen in any film. His last appearance was a supporting role in the absolutely average How do you know its love is by James L. Brooks, who directed Nicholson at least two Oscars (for Time of tenderness and It couldn’t be better) and the winner is. But in contrast to his professional colleagues Sean Connery and Gene Hackman, who officially retired in the early 2000s after each mediocre final film, Nicholson has never declared his acting career over and a return to the screen has not been ruled out. He can afford to be as picky as he wants. It is almost on his cinema comeback in the remake of the Oscar-nominated German tragic-comedy Toni Erdmann came, but then Nicholson dropped out at short notice.
However, there was another film a few years ago that Nicholson almost returned for. He was the first candidate for the role of Robert Downey Jr.’s father in The judge – right or honor. In the film, the successful, arrogant lawyer played by Downey Jr. returns to his hometown after the death of his mother, where his strict and very critical father works as a respected judge. The two have to overcome the strained father-son relationship when the amnesia father is charged with murder.
Robert Duvall took on the role of the judge in the film after the deal with Nicholson failed, and received his seventh Academy Award nomination for her. Director David Dobkin now revealed in an interview that Nicholson was interested in the role, but demanded massive changes to the script that Downey Jr. (also producer of the film) and Dobkin were not ready to make:
We had two meetings with him. He wanted the script to be rewritten a lot more than we wanted it to be, which was a concern. So Robert (Downey Jr.) and I sat down with him again. Then we realized … we felt like we were protecting our own material. We worried about how far we would have had to go to make Jack happy. I already had Robert on board and we were about to begin and had the go-ahead for the film so I didn’t want to write again. But they were really entertaining conversations. Jack is one hell of a storyteller. It would have been a different film. There were no right or wrong comments, it would just be a little different. A little more isolated. Less from the brothers. Less of what else happened. It was a very interesting film. But right after the meeting, I remember how Robert and I left his house and I looked at Robert and said, “I don’t know …”. We’d been working on the script for two years. I said, “I don’t know if we can go back to writing”. He replied, “No, we won’t do that. Who’s next?” I said: “It has to be Bobby Duvall”. He said, “All right”. And that’s how it happened.
It must have taken a great deal of effort not to give in to Nicholson’s demands and to forego bringing back one of the greatest movie stars of all time in possibly his very last performance. Dobkin stated:
You would do almost anything to get him for a movie. Incidentally, he has not been seen in a film for ages. Man, he’s my all time favorite actor. It was a tough decision. But I loved this movie, Robert loved the movie, we had a period and we would have missed it if we had to rewrite the movie as much as he wanted it to. You do that with some films. Not with others. One of the nice things about this film was… the film was made very straightforward. It’s a film like a report. It’s all about the performances. I have not tried to move the camera a lot or to exhaust the film too much. I had Janusz Kaminski as a cameraman and I let him do the lighting. But there is some pleasure in sitting back on the movie and watching the actors play the matter. Bill Dubuque wrote an incredible draft script.
In all honesty, Duvall’s strong showing aside The judge not enough substance in my view to fill its almost two and a half hour running time. A change in the script might have done him good, but above all I would have liked to see Nicholson on screen again. I hope that the 83-year-old actor will eventually find a project that will motivate him to step in front of the cameras again.