Oscar Profile #490: Nick Nolte

Born February 8, 1941 in Omaha, Nebraska, Nicholas King Nolte, known professionally as Nick Nolte, was the son of Franklin Arthur and Helen King Nolte. Following high school graduation in 1959, Nolte attended several colleges and universities and eventually acted at the Pasadena Playhouse and other venues throughout the country. He was a model in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Nolte had roles in various TV series and made-for-TV movies from 1969 on. His breakthrough came with his starring role in the 1976 TV mini-series, Rich Man, Poor Man in which Peter Strauss and he were billed over a cast of Hollywood heavyweights. Both actors as well as Susan Blakely, Dorothy McGuire, Ray Milland, Robert Reed, Bill Bixby, Norman Fell, Van Johnson, Kim Darby, Kay Lenz, Ed Asner and Fionnula Flanagan were nominated for Emmys with Asner and Flanagan winning.

The success of Rich Man, Poor Man led Nolte to starring roles in some of Hollywood’s most prestigious films over the next few years including 1977’s The Deep opposite Jacqueline Bisset, 1978’s Who’ll Stop the Rain opposite Tuesday Weld, 1979’s North Dallas Forty opposite Mac Davis, 1980’s Heart Beat opposite Sissy Spacek, 1982’s Cannery Row opposite Debra Winger, the same yer’s 48 Hours opposite Eddie Murphy and 1983’s Under Fire opposite Gene Hackman. Nolte was billed first in all of them.

The first film in which Nolte did not received top billing since his breakthrough was in 1984’s Grace Quigley in which he was second billed to Katharine Hepburn in her last starring role. Later films included 1984’s Teachers opposite JoBeth Williams, 1986’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills opposite Bette Midler, 1987’s Weeds for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, 1990’s Q&A opposite Timothy Hutton and 1992’s Cape Fear opposite Robert De Niro and The Prince of Tides opposite Barbra Streisand who also directed, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Nolte’s subsequent films included 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil opposite Susan Sarandon, 1995’s Jefferson in Paris opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, 1997’s Afterglow opposite Julie Christie and 1998’s Affliction for which he received his second Oscar nomination. Seen more recently in character roles in such films as 2004’s Hotel Rwanda and 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Nolte received his third Oscar nomination for 2011’s Warrior in which he played the father of stars Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy.

The actor’s most recent theatrical film was 2019’s Angel Has Fallen. Since then he has provided voicework for the 2019 TV series, The Mandalorian and is featured in the 2020 TV series, Paradise Lost.

Nick Nolte has been married four times, is the father of two and the grandfather of one. He remains ever busy at 79.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

RICH MAN, POOR MAN (1976), directed by David Greene, Boris Sagal

This first ever TV mini-series was a ratings bonanza that launched the careers of both Peter Strauss as the straight arrow brother and Nick Nolte as the wild one. Following the trials and tribulations of one family from the end of World War II through the late 1960s, Nolte, Strauss and Susan Blakely as the woman who loves them both, this also provided prominent roles for acting legends Dorothy McGuire, Ed Asner, Robert Reed, Bill Bixby, Dorothy Malone, Van Johnson and more. Nolte put on twenty pounds to play his character in middle age after having played him rail thin as a young man.

WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN (1978), directed by Karel Reisz

Nolte was a contender for the Best Actor award of the National Society of Film Critics for his portrayal of the Viet Nam vet who gets mixed up in a drug deal with buddy Michael Moriarty and his wife, Tuesday Weld, ending up on the lam with Weld. Based on Robert Stone’s award-winning novel, Dog Soldiers, the film’s soundtrack featured Creedence Clearwater Revival’s title song as well as “Proud Mary”, Don McLean “American Pie” and Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and more. Nolte lost the NSFC award to Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story.

THE PRINCE OF TIDES (1991), directed by Barbra Streisand

Nolte was the early favorite to take home the Oscar for his portrayal of the Southern football coach reliving his traumatic childhood for psychiatrist Barbra Streisand in the film based on Pat Conroy’s novel, but momentum shifted to eventual winner Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs when Hopkins insisted that he be considered for lead, rather than supporting, actor in the film in which his character’s screen time would seem to suggest that it was a supporting role. Nolte is terrific in the film, especially in the later scenes opposite Streisand, Kate Nelligan as his mother and Melinda Dillon as his sister.

AFFLICTION (1998), directed by Paul Schrader

Nolte won both the New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics’ awards for his portrayal of the deeply troubled small-town sheriff in the throes of a nervous breakdown in one of director Schrader’s most acclaimed films. Nominated for an Oscar, he lost to Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful, while James Coburn as his abusive, alcoholic father won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The film is narrated by fourth billed Willem Dafoe as Nolte’s brother who doesn’t appear on-screen appearance until 55 minutes into the film. Sissy Spacek and Schrader’s wife, Mary Beth Hurt co-star.

WARRIOR (2011), directed by Gavin O’Connor

Mixed martial arts provided the backdrop for the film that earned Nolte his third Oscar nomination, his first in the supporting category for his portrayal of the former alcoholic boxer who trains his younger son (Tom Hardy) for what will lead to a confrontation in the ring between him and his older brother (Joel Edgerton). As it was in Nolte’s most memorable roles from Rich Man, Poor Man to The Prince of Tides to Affliction, the family dynamic is the ruling force here. Nolte’s part was written for him by his neighbors, Anthony Tambakis and director Gavin O’Connor.

NICK NOLTE AND OSCAR

  • The Prince of Tides (1991) – nominated – Best Actor
  • Affliction (1998) – nominated – Best Actor
  • Warrior (1991) – nominated – Best Supporting Actor

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