Nolte has the answers to all his questions

Times Staff Writer

CANNES, France -- Celebrity interviews abound at the Cannes Film Festival: Penelope Cruz chatting on the beach, Harrison Ford talking near the red carpet, Angelina Jolie conversing in a swank hotel. But none of the Cannes dialogues is as strange as Nick Nolte’s: He’s actually interrogating himself in a small room.

Screening at the Cannes sales market on Thursday and Friday, “Nick Nolte: No Exit” is an almost existential documentary, part self-celebratory profile, part surreal question-and-answer session. While the film does include a range of friends and collaborators talking about the “Affliction” and “Prince of Tides” star’s acting -- Ben Stiller and Jacqueline Bisset among them -- its center focuses on Nolte asking himself (and usually answering) his own queries.

At one point early in “No Exit,” the 67-year-old actor poses a question to himself about working in the theater, only to growl out the reply, “That’s kind of a silly question to ask.”


Later, the multi-divorced Nolte asks, “How many wives have you had, Nick?” His response? “Well, that’s a good question. How many wives can you have? Come on, come on, come on, let’s go on. Next question!”

The film’s title is not only a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play about a room in hell without escape but also an apt description of the film’s dynamics: Nolte is essentially trapped in an office with his own thoughts, often mumbling along in stream-of-consciousness soliloquies.

At times, “No Exit” can play like a combination of an intervention meeting and a great episode of “Behind the Music.” Like private investigator Anthony Pellicano’s discussing his crimes while serving as his own attorney, Nolte sometimes talks of himself in the third person.

In discussing his 2002 arrest for driving under the influence, Nolte steers his remarks about that highly public transgression toward his less well-known 1961 case for selling fake draft cards.

“It seems like a much bigger criminal action than that silly, goofy guy that was picked up not long -- about two or three years ago -- which has now been voted the best celebrity mug shot. Are you proud of that? Do you want to talk to me or some celebrity that you are chasing?”

At another point, Nolte talks about career choices, which range from memorable works such as “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “The Thin Red Line” to less acclaimed productions including “Another 48 Hrs.” and “Hulk.” “Are you a whore?” Nolte asks himself. “Will you do anything just strictly for the money? Well, I’m certainly not doing this for the money. You can bet that.”


Nolte throws out small observations on many of his films -- that “48 Hrs.” was largely improvised, that he was a jerk when working with “The Deep” director Peter Yates and that “The Thin Red Line” director Terrence Malick “was more interested in insects than actors” during the making of the film.

Addressing his addictions, Nolte muses that perhaps he’s motivated to escape or to explore and that maybe it’s all part of being an actor. “Or are you just a plain, old drunk? It seems like they have cast me in that role -- as the drinker, you know, [and] I wish I’d get paid for that role. I’ve given them a lot of good footage.”

It’s no surprise that Nolte can be candid airing some of his own (occasionally dirty) laundry. His own website ( launches with his mug shots and includes quotations (including one from poet Anne Sexton) about his philosophical inspirations. But what impressed “No Exit” director Tom Thurman was the actor’s willingness to bare all on film, without a journalist constantly prompting him to do so.

“I knew that I wanted to make a documentary that was not traditional,” Thurman says from his Kentucky home. “And if there is anybody on the planet who would roll with someone wanting to do something less traditional, this is my guy.”

Thurman, who has made documentaries on directors John Ford and Sam Peckinpah and actors Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, collaborated with Nolte on Thurman’s recent film about the life of writer Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride,” which Nolte narrated.

When they decided to make “No Exit,” Nolte agreed to no limits on the areas for discussion (Thurman would occasionally prompt the actor from off camera). “That was the remarkable thing, everything he wanted to talk about . . . [being] amazingly accessible and vulnerable,” Thurman says.

Like so many hundreds of others here, Thurman has come to Cannes hoping someone will take a risk and distribute his film. “I don’t have a sales rep; I am doing this completely alone,” he says.

Thurman faces some unusual competition: Nolte has another movie in the market here, “King Shot,” a “metaphysical spaghetti gangster film” costarring goth rocker Marilyn Manson. As “No Exit” proves, you never know what Nolte will say or do next.