Robert Redford’s latest directorial effort, The Company You Keep, features a number of well-known character actors such as Sam Elliot, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson and Stanley Tucci. It also has in its cast some of the hottest young actors of today like Shia LeBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling.
It even has some of the finest actresses of our generation like Susan Sarandon and the great Julie Christie. But when it came time for The Company You Keep to have its press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, only one of the actors from the film came to talk about it, and that was Nick Nolte.
In the movie Nolte plays Donal Fitzgerald, an old friend of Jim Grant (played by Redford) who was once a member of anti-Vietnam War militant group known as The Weather Underground. Donal these days is now the owner of a lumber yard, but he comes to Jim’s aid when his true identity is discovered and he is forced to go on the run from the FBI. Donal does his best to help his friend, and they start to wonder if their activities back in the 60′s were worth all the trouble.
While Nolte did talk a bit about working with Redford, many of his answers to questions had little to do with the movie at hand. Regardless, it was fascinating to sit back and listen to what he had to say as you could never be sure which direction he was going to go in next.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: What was it like working with Robert Redford both as an actor and a director?
Nick Nolte: I was very curious about how Bob worked as a director and actor. I like working with writer/directors because then you can solve problems right there. I felt no tension from Bob at rehearsals. When I was called to go to Vancouver, it went real smoothly. Everything was fine. We tease each other a bit too. “How many squats can you do?” Stuff like that.
This hotel is awful by the way. I mean the toilets are so damn low that you damn near can’t get up! It’s just… why? I know what happened. They took the world’s average height, including all the races, and it comes out to probably be about five foot. So it doesn’t work for us. It’s tough, really tough. They should do something about the tubs. You can’t get in those tubs and they don’t cover you up. Do you think the hotel owners really think they will save money on water with these tubs by making their clientele uncomfortable? Are they going to save two dollars on water? It’s crazy thinking.
We Got This Covered: What is your take on the Weather Underground group as they are portrayed in this movie? Are they terrorists or patriots, and how do you define domestic terrorism?
Nick Nolte: When I was a kid, my dad went to World War II, and I didn’t know him. I was born in 1941. We lived in Ames, Iowa in this three-story Victorian house. It looked grand, but a lot of it was rented out. I remember a day where there was a lot of excitement because my dad was coming home. I didn’t quite know what that meant. I can’t say I was very lucid at the time, but I remember the feeling of excitement. Then I remember the image in the doorway, which was a skeleton, just a skeleton. He was 6-foot-6 and he must have weighed 140 pounds or something.
They took him upstairs and then I had to go up and sit in this rocking chair beside this skeleton that would just be breathing. So it occurred to me, whatever he went through, I didn’t ever want to do it. That was it. I didn’t want to kill anybody. I just can’t do that. I know I can’t do that. I don’t like the idea of killing. I don’t like the idea of war. Who does? Nobody. We’ve got a chance to make it as a race if we don’t do another world war. I think we have got a good chance, and we seem to have learned a huge lesson there. I’m not going to live much longer, so I don’t know what will happen 30 or 40 years from now, but it’s going to be interesting. It’s really going to be interesting.
When I was raising my son Brawley, and he moved in with me when he was 12, I said to him “do you want an open house or a closed house?” He said “what’s the difference?” I said “in an open house we allow people to come in, but we have rules. There’s a bedtime rule during the school week, and we allow a certain limited number of people in the open house. But in an open house, you can have some friends living with you. In a closed house, you have none of that. You go to school, you can have friends over for playtime, but they go home by six.” Of course he chose the open house, and right off the get-go I became godparents for two kids.
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We Got This Covered: You received your third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for your performance in Warrior. Did that change anything for you personally or professionally?
Nick Nolte: I never liked them. I just never like the Oscars. They are too much for me. I felt like a big, vulnerable hunk of bologna, being used to sell some product. 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.” (They said) “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 could share one quarter of that percent!”
We Got This Covered: This film exposes such a vital part of American history that a lot of people don’t know about. When you first got the script, what was it about it that spoke to you about the film and your character?
Nick Nolte: Honestly, the yearning to tell the story. I’ve got the bug. I’ve got the distortion in me. I’ve got a love that Katharine Hepburn would say that there should be a law against you having relationships because you love your work and it’s not going to be fair to anybody. It’s killing me not being able to talk coherently about the generation of the 60s. It had such a phenomenal impression on this country to change and to accept and to say we don’t have to walk out with honor; to say we got to stop, we got to stop.
The women throwing away that damn girdle was such an inspiration. You replaced it with hair from your ankles to the top of your head so it wasn’t about sex at all. It was about a girdle. You wouldn’t accept your parents forcing you to wear something that really wasn’t healthy for you. For men, I don’t know if we could wear blue jeans, but we could wear different colored khakis to school, but I wore one red sock and one blue sock. I got away with it because I didn’t have a lot of money and I lost the other pair.
We Got This Covered: There are a lot of iconic actors working in this movie with you, and then there’s Shia LeBeouf. Do you think Shia and actors of his generation have it easier or harder than you?
Nick Nolte: You know, I don’t think it’s a question of harder or easier. The question is: is this generation using the utilities and the tools that it has? The answer is a rip-roaring yes. They’re using everything at their disposal and it’s fascinating to them. It’s too bad we didn’t have the Internet in the 60s. It probably wouldn’t have happened.
We Got This Covered: In relation to the Weather Underground, a few years back we had the Occupy Movement which was a generation’s response to the ills of society. It seems to have fizzled by now, but did you watch that movement and were you at all encouraged by it?
Nick Nolte: I don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, I just live in a little isolated world with a garden and vegetables and films. I do hang out with the Hare Krishnas, and the reason I hang out with Hare Krishnas is because that movement was started in the 60s. It’s not because of the religious doctrine, it’s because they chant, and I do like to chant and dance. So I will hold some events at my house, or I will go down to the Venice Temple and do that.
We Got This Covered: Before you made your big acting breakthrough in the 70s with Rich Man, Poor Man, what were your dreams as an actor?
Nick Nolte: What I was aware of was that if you have to act and you need to act, then go act. I did regional theater for 14 years. I had a whole circuit. I would work in Phoenix. We developed quite a few repertory companies out of there like Southwest Theater and Actors Inner Circle. My first wife Sheila (the most beautiful woman in Phoenix) went through some harrowing situations with me. One of them was when I was a friend of this photography professor, and we would go out in the desert and take LSD. I did this for about eight trips with the professor who was about 40 years old. On the eighth trip, we were coming back and I guess he had gotten into a little bit of a struggle because he turned to me and he said, “You wouldn’t make it without me.” In one sense, that’s absolutely true, and in another sense that’s absolutely bullshit because we will all make it. We are all right.
A lot of the way we see things were changed from these psychedelic trips. It’s not that that was a new thing. It had been around for thousands of years, mushrooms and things like that. It has always been assimilated into the culture, either religiously or through storytelling or in some other way. What gets me is the attack of a plant, when it obviously has a symbiotic relationship with human beings. All these plants are part of us. When humans started eating broccoli in the wild, you couldn’t have eaten it, but somewhere along the line that plant said, “Listen, I’ll make a deal with you. You take care of me, and I will be your food.” There is a relationship going on there.
We Got This Covered: America has this history of this push back whether it’s the McCarthy trials or the movement in the 60s and even to gay marriage today. In this film, is this a specific witch hunt the characters are going through or is it a moral tale of right and wrong?
Nick Nolte: Nobody likes to change. There’s only one thing that’s consistently true: there will always be change. That’s just the dilemma of it. There will always be resistance to change, and there always be change. The quicker you get to that, the easier it is. It’s not such a difficult thing. If you entrench yourself with “by God I will not change, I will not have this,” you’re a dead man. Adaptability, we are great at it.
We Got This Covered: What were your feelings about the Weather Underground and have they changed at all over the years?
Nick Nolte: I didn’t even really know of them. They were such a fringe group. I had heard about them, but violence was something I was trying to avoid. A lot has happened in our time. I always say that every generation will be challenged morally once in their life about its government, and they will have to say where they stand.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Nick for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to check out The Company You Keep when it hits theatres this Friday.Previous