The Company You Keep star Nick Nolte gave us a recent interview that was equally insightful as it was rambling. The Oscar-nominated star has had quite the career, and as can be seen in The Company You Keep trailer, his film from star-director Robert Redford sits among his best.
Clearly Nolte wanted to work with the legendary Hollywood icon. “I was curious, very curious, about how Bob worked, and I always am when it’s a director-actor. I like working with writer-directors because you can solve problems right there. I felt no tension from Bob at all in rehearsals or in discussing it. There just wasn’t any tension,” Nolte said.
Then, when it was time to shoot one of his scenes, Nolte was perplexed at what he found when he arrived on set. “When I was called to go on up to Vancouver and went up, it went smoothly and everything was fine. And then, we broke for lunch. I went to lunch, and on my way back from lunch, I heard them say, ‘Roll ‘em!’ and I looked down and there was Bob running down the alley,” Nolte said.
There’s a scene where Redford’s former 1960’s radical was on the run and was worried that the Feds were closing in on him. “He had gotten paranoid at Donald’s place (Nolte’s character) and thought I had called the FBI. I went in there and said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m supposed to be driving that car.’ Then, all of a sudden, Bob disappeared and the producer wasn’t there,” Nolte recalled.
“There was just three big guys standing in front of me, and they said, ‘Do you have a problem, Mr. Nolte?’ I thought about it for a second and I said, ‘No, I really don’t.’ Because… I realized that Bob was going to run that alley, and he only wanted to run it once! He didn’t want another actor -- me -- to (expletive) up the mark and have to run it twice. He’s 75, you know!”
As teased in this The Company You Keep clip, the story is about what would happen to a group of 1960’s violent rebels if the federal government closed in on them in modern times and is chock full of stellar actors who have given us decades of incredible work from Susan Sarandon and Chris Cooper to Richard Jenkins and Julie Christie. But, we wondered what Nolte thought about the youngest star in the film, Shia LaBeouf, his generation and how they are carrying the acting torch.
“I think it’s a question of, is this generation using the utilities and tools that it has? And [the answer to] that is a rip roaring ‘Yes.’ They are using everything at their disposal, and it’s fascinating,” Nolte said.
The actor then went on a tangent equating the internet to advanced cognitive ability, and how if it had existed when he was young, the Vietnam War may have ended sooner.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have the internet in the sixties. It probably wouldn’t have happened, but there was a while there where our parents said, ‘These internet games are dumbing our children down.’ Harvard did this experiment where they took a mouse and put him in a cage and gave him everything he wanted. At first, they studied dendrite growth in the brain. They did x-rays to see the dendrite growth. Then, they put another mouse in a cage and gave it everything it wanted, but it had to run on a circular wheel. Every time it moved, it would go round. And then, they put a mouse in the third cage, and they would take that mouse out twice a week and put him through a stress test -- and not a little maze. I mean, it threatened his life,” Nolte said.
“He had to cross a string (wire) 20 feet above a pool of water. It wouldn’t have killed him, but he would have thought he might be dying with that fall. At the end of this experiment, they killed the mice, and then they sliced the brain up to see the dendrite growth. The mouse that had everything didn’t grow a dendrite. The mouse that had to run, with just the physical activity alone, grew dendrites, but they didn’t hook up. The stress mouse hooked up and he grew tremendous amounts. So, there’s something about life and its hardness. We’re social animals. We’ve got to get along together. It’s in our nature. We’re hardwired that way."
At the root of The Company You Keep story is Sarandon’s character who is arrested after decades for being a part of the Weather Underground. The story is fiction, but the radical group did exist and they used violence as a means to end the Vietnam War. Nolte was asked about how much he agreed or disagreed with their methods and his answer was unique to say the least.
“When I was a kid, my dad went to World War II. I didn’t know him. I remember a day when there was a lot of excitement because my dad was coming home. Then, I remember the image in the doorway which was a skeleton. He was just a skeleton. He was 6 foot 6 and I don’t know what he weighed. He must have been only 140 pounds. They took him upstairs. And then, every day for a little time, I had to go up and sit in the rocking chair beside this skeleton that would just be struggling to breathe,” Nolte said.
It was in that moment, that the actor knew what his reality was when it came to war. “It occurred to me that whatever he went through, I didn’t ever want to do it. That was it. That’s where the idea sprung. I don’t want to be involved in that. Then it goes onto I don’t want to kill anybody. I can’t do that,” Nolte admitted.
He then references a book called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and explains the book’s fascinating findings.
“When I read the Colonel’s book on killing, it justifies it. During the Revolutionary War, how many guys pointed their guns dead aim at the enemy? Who can do that? When you get up to the Vietnam War, you’ve got only maybe ten to twenty percent of the guys pointing guns at the enemy. There are a lot of guys that will load them, but they’ll get them before the guys can pull the trigger. They had to come up with a concept to dehumanize the enemy, and that became ‘Gook.’ Then, they raised it to eighty percent. It can be done, but I don’t like the idea of killing. I don’t like the idea of war. Who does? Nobody.”
If anything, the sixties were about change, and according to Nolte, that was the first red flag to the collective culture. “There’s only one thing consistently true. There will be change, and that’s just the dilemma of it. There will always be resistance to change, and there always will be change. And the quicker you get to that, the easier it is,” Nolte said.
“If you entrench yourself and go, ‘By God, I will not change, I will not have this,’ then you’re a dead man. We’re great at adaptability. It’s our strongest suit.”
We couldn’t let Nolte go before asking him where his Oscar nominations (most recently for Warrior) sat in his rear view mirror of life accomplishments. His answer might surprise, but then again, if you know anything about the entity that is Nick Nolte, it is not all that shocking.
“I never liked the Oscars. They didn’t do too much for me at all. I felt like a big, vulnerable hunk of baloney being used to sell some products,” Nolte said.
“They asked me once to be a presenter, and I said, “Yeah, I’d love to be. You give me one quarter of one half percent of profits.’ ‘No, Mr. Nolte, everybody does this for free.’ I said, ‘Yes, I know, and you’re the biggest show on TV, bigger than the Super Bowl. You can share one quarter of one half percent.’ And that was it. I didn’t present!”