George Miller is one of the most versatile directors making movies today. While best known for his work on the Mad Max franchise, he’s also responsible for family films like Babe and Happy Feet. Somewhere in between those extremes was the 1987 drama The Witches of Eastwick. While Miller did not enjoy the experience of making that particular film, he does say that he got some very useful advice from Jack Nicholson while directing the actor in it.
In an extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, George Miller talks about his career in filmmaking. While Miller is best known for creating very tough characters on screen, he characterizes himself as a very nice guy - something that Jack Nicholson apparently told him can misinterpreted, and so it can actually be something of a problem. Miller explained,
Some of the producers were very chaotic in their thinking. It kind of got crazy. There was no purpose to [things]. The first mistake I made was, I sat down at a production meeting and they said, ‘OK, where can we cut the budget?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t need a trailer.’ I was always seen as being very polite. And they mistake politeness for weakness. That’s what Jack [Nicholson] told me. He said, ‘Be careful. They mistake your politeness for weakness.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to make them think you’re a little bit crazy.’
It’s difficult to believe the man responsible for creating the post-apocalyptic hell-scape that was Mad Max could be too polite, but there you go. George Miller talks about how the reason he was willing to cut the trailer for Witches of Eastwick was because he never worked on it, as he was always busy filming the actual movie and working with the actors. It was no big deal, so he was happy to help cut the budget. However, on the other side of the table, what the accountants potentially saw was somebody who immediately gave up something without putting up a fight. That’s how politeness becomes weakness.
Of course, the other item of note here is that is that Jack Nicholson, who has always come across as a little bit crazy himself in both his films and in public, may have just given away his secret. He’s been kind of faking it the whole time. To be sure, Jack Nicholson’s persona has been a huge part of what has made him the success that he is today, so apparently pretending to be a little crazy works really well.
George Miller doesn’t really say how much he has been able to adapt to Jack Nicholson’s advice, but he seems to be enjoying the movies he’s making, and we’re enjoying the result. Miller’s latest film Mad Max: Fury Road has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and hopefully he’ll have many more features coming in the next few years.