Nationality: American. Born: Omaha, Nebraska, 8 February 1941. Education: Attended Pasadena City College and Phoenix City College. Family: Married 1) Sheila Page, 1965–1971; 2) Sharon
Winter Kill (Taylor—for TV); The California Kid (Heffron—for TV); Death Sentence (Swackhamer—for TV)
Return to Macon County (Compton) (as Bo Hollinger); The Runaway Barge (Sagal—for TV)
The Deep (Yates) (as David Sanders)
Who'll Stop the Rain (Reisz) (as Ray Hicks); North Dallas Forty (Kotcheff) (as Phillip Elliott)
Heart Beat (Byrum) (as Neal Cassady)
48 Hrs. (Walter Hill) (as Jack Cates); Cannery Row (Ward) (as Doc)
Under Fire (Spottiswoode) (as Russell Price)
The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley ( Grace Quigley ) (Harvey) (as Seymour Flint); Teachers (Hiller) (as Alex)
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Mazursky) (as Jerry Baskin)
Extreme Prejudice (Walter Hill) (as Jack Benteen, Texas Ranger); Weeds (Hancock) (as Lee Umstetter)
Three Fugitives (Veber) (as Daniel Lucas); "Life Lessons" ep. of New York Stories (Scorsese) (as Lionel Dobie); Farewell to the King (Milius) (as Learoyd)
Everybody Wins (Reisz) (as Tom O'Toole); Q & A (Lumet) (as Lieut. Mike Brennan); Another 48 Hrs. (Walter Hill) (as Jack Cates)
Prince of Tides (Streisand) (as Tom Wingo); Cape Fear (Scorsese) (as Sam Bowden)
The Player (Altman); Lorenzo's Oil (George Miller) (as Augusto Odone)
I Love Trouble (Shyer) (as Peter Brackett); Blue Chips (Friedkin) (as Pete Bell); I'll Do Anything (James L. Brooks) (as Matt Hobbs)
Jefferson in Paris (Ivory) (title role)
Mulholland Falls (Tamahori) (as Max Hoover); Mother Night (Gordon) (as Howard W. Campbell Jr.)
U Turn (Stone) (as Jake McKenna); Afterglow (Rudolph) (as Lucky "Fix-it" Mann); Affliction (Schrader) (as Wade Whitehouse)
The Thin Red Line (Malick) (as Lt. Col. Gordon Tall); Nightwatch (Bornedal) (as Inspector Thomas Cray)
Trixie (Rudolph) (as Senator Avery); Simpatico (Warchus) (as Vinnie); Breakfast of Champions (Rudolph) (as Harry Le Sabre); The Best of Enemies
The Golden Bowl (Ivory) (as Adam Verver); Trixie
Interview, in Prevue , December 1982-January 1983.
"Nick Nolte: 'I'm Action in Hollywood's Book,"' interview with B. Hadleigh, in Film Monthly (Berkhamsted, England), July 1991.
"George Stover on Film," in Fatal Visions , no. 19, September 1995.
Weiser, Mel, Nick Nolte: Caught in the Act , Troy, 1999.
American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1977.
Current Biography 1980 , New York, 1980.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 8 December 1983.
Photoplay (London), July 1984.
Films and Filming (London), November 1984.
McGuigan, Cathleen, "The Prime of Nick Nolte," in Newsweek (New York), 27 February 1989.
Oney, Steve, "The Nolte Nobody Knows," in Premiere (New York), March 1989.
Bordy, Meredith, "Prince of Hollywood," in Connoisseur , September 1991.
Mansfield, Stephanie, "Nick Nolte: Up from the Gutter," in GQ (New York), October 1991.
De Jonge, Peter, "Off-Balance Heroes," in New York Times Magazine , 27 October 1991.
Schwarzbaum, Lisa, "Nick's Time," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 24 January 1992.
Cieutat, M., "Nick Nolte," in Positif (Paris), April 1993.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1993.
* * *
After his first leading role in The Deep , Nick Nolte resurfaced with an amazing performance in Who'll Stop the Rain , playing a Marine in Vietnam caught up in a dope scam by his disillusioned intellectual friend, Michael Moriarty. Moriarty's trafficking is a gesture of disgust; he creates a mess he cannot clean up. Nolte, harking back to a pre-counterculture style of self-reliant heroic alienation, takes responsibility regardless of fault. He is sick of being pushed around, and his taking on of crooked federal agents hits a nerve in audiences. Nolte's Ray Hicks is not above corruption—we see him take petty revenge on a party of swingers—but we are drawn to him as an action hero whose character is lent a deeper dimension by the film's morally complex view of the 1970s drug culture—a complexity appreciated and conveyed by the actor.
Nolte followed this with North Dallas Forty , as Phillip Elliott, a pro football receiver with the best hands in the game but unable to play the more important game of kissing the asses of corporate owners and managers. A sports melodrama redolent of 1940s boxing pictures (Elliott even sneaks around with the girls with one of the hostile managers), but Nolte's relaxed, expansive presence makes a melodramatic bind seem like a naturalistic essay. In Who'll Stop the Rain the actor starts out reading Nietzsche in Vietnam and ends up dead; in North Dallas Forty he starts out sleepless with pain and ends up unemployed, but unencumbered and in love. Nolte's simmering magnificence can plausibly move either way.
Some of his finest performances, perhaps surprisingly given his macho image, have been as artists. In Roger Spottiswoode's Under Fire , about photojournalists in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution, Nolte plays a photographer who agrees to aid the leftists by faking a photo but, with his thoroughgoing commitment as a performer, he makes clear the character's moral dilemma in reaching this decision, both in his dealings with his colleagues, and with the guerrillas and mercenaries. In "Life Lessons," Martin Scorsese's segment in New York Stories , Nolte is Lionel Dobie, an abstract-expressionist painter trying to keep his assistant from quitting but inadequate to giving her the necessary reassurance. It's a gem of a performance, with Nolte's massive frame housing a nervy, lumberingly foolish, obsessive man, who is at once a palpably inspired artist.
For such a big man and big-guy star, Nolte is extraordinarily versatile, convincing as the bearlike bum who liberates Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler's Beverly Hills household in Paul Mazursky's Down and Out in Beverly Hills , and as the stolid small-town sheriff in Walter Hill's Extreme Prejudice . He can play sensitive without playing educated, as in Weeds , without allowing his sensitivity to block the route to effective action. He can also play men who are outmaneuvered, as he is by Debra Winger in Everybody Wins , without losing his force. And in a big-budget romance such as Prince of Tides , he eloquently combines the characteristics of an overgrown adolescent, baiting his wife, with the sleek, solid romantic wooing Barbra Streisand's swank Manhattan psychoanalyst, but able later to collapse weeping in her arms.
At times, however, he has played weak men in films whose scripts have blunted his opportunity to excel. Cape Fear , for example, strings him up to satisfy Scorsese's meretricious insistence on turning a revenge thriller into a redemption story, and Nolte seems beset less by De Niro's psycho than by a script that presents him with compromises and failures. Likewise, James L. Brooks's I'll Do Anything diminishes Nolte in his role as an out-of-work actor hoping to star in a remake of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town , while the revisionist script for Jefferson in Paris , while forcing Nolte's Jefferson to confront the contradiction of being both slave owner and freedom fighter leaves him foundering without a rejoinder.
But Nolte, more than any other current star, leaves his bad roles behind him, and the fact that he does not seem overexposed is a tribute to the fundamental honesty of his acting.
Weathered into an aging leonine presence of undiminished animal magnetism, whose appetite for wide-ranging work sees him into the good, the bad and the indifferent, Nolte always gives of his best, contributing noteworthy portrayals to too-little-seen films. There is his libidinous, charming handyman, avoiding unforgiving wife Julie Christie's emotional devastation in Alan Rudolph's Afterglow ; and his performances in Keith Gordon's Mother Night and Rudolph's Breakfast of Champions , both ambitious stabs at adapting Kurt Vonnegut. In the former, Nolte excels as the somber, incarcerated Nazi propagandist/Allied spy withdrawn into reflections on personal responsibility; in the latter, he is hilarious as a closeted cross-dressing car salesman.
Affliction , Paul Schrader's bleak and painful exploration of men's violence, is made bearable because of the star's courageous and selfless performance as a hard-drinking, pot-smoking, small-town sheriff, whose investigation of a suspicious death becomes bound up with the feelings of inadequacy instilled in him by a terrifying father. This weak, wretched man is so disturbingly well-observed that he commands sympathy. Schrader's inspired casting of James Coburn as the abusive father allows the virile, physically imposing Nolte to play off another icon of masculinity and, in the sinister presence of Coburn, Nolte, intimidated and cringing, makes one—as so often—feel the scars he bears. One might have to seek Nick Nolte out a little, but once found, there are no barriers—he is as generous as nature made him.
—Alan Dale, updated by Robyn Karney