In a career spanning nearly 100 films, actor Nick Nolte has earned acclaim for his ability to balance gritty realism and gruff humor, with a physicality that betrays the sensitivity of some of his finest performances. “If the story reaches up to where the great actor is, the great actor disappears,” he told CBS News’ Lee Cowan. “And the story becomes number one.”
A three-time Oscar-nominee and a Golden Globe-winner, he has starred in such hits as “48 Hrs.,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “The Prince of Tides,” “Affliction” and “Warrior.” He is now starring in the TV series “Graves.”
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
In the 2016 Epix TV series “Graves” (costarring Sela Ward), Nick Nolte plays a volatile, hard-drinking former U.S. president, who undergoes a political epiphany -- setting out to right his administration’s past wrongs in often unpredictable and very public ways.
“The concept is so beautiful,” Nolte told “Sunday Morning” correspondent Lee Cowan.
“You seem like you’re always at your best when you’re playing somebody who has some wrongs to right, or some road to recovery that you’ve got to find, and that’s what this role is, right?” Cowan asked.
“Well, that is what this role is, but this is about the sin we all carry.” Which is? “Which is what we were born with. Being human. Fallible. Yeah, fallible. That’s what the affliction is.”
"The Wonderful World of Disney"
After spending his college days playing football (at many different colleges … classes held little interest for him), Nolte started doing regional theater in places like Minnesota and Arizona. In L.A. he was asked by a friend to accompany him to the house of acting coach Brian O’Byrne. “Brian stopped him right away and said, ‘Chris, there can’t be any visitors. If he is going to stay here, he’ll have to read,’” Nolte recalled. “So I read.” And how did it go? “A lot better than I thought!” he laughed.
O’Bryne, who told Nolte that “you’re an actor,” would cast him in his production of William Inge’s “The Last Pad.”
Beginning in the late 1960s, Nolte made numerous appearances on TV and films, including “Death Valley Days,” “Cannon,” “The Rookies” and the film “Electra Glide in Blue.” An early starring role was as a cowboy who wrangles some unusual livestock (pictured) in the Disney TV film, “Feather Farm” (1969).
"Rich Man, Poor Man"
Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss as the Jordache brothers in the TV miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man,” based on Irwin Shaw’s novel.
With the story spanning ages 16 to 50, the 35-year-old Nolte lost about 40 pounds to play the younger version of Tom Jordache (“Back to the weight that I was as a sophomore in high school”). But as he “aged up” into the older boxer, the actor purposely plugged his ears. “I didn’t want to be able to quite hear what people were saying because I was in the lost fog, and it created that,” he said.
Which made the actress playing his mother go berserk. “’Tricks! Tricks! You’re doing tricks!’” he laughingly recalled her saying. “And I said, ‘Well, what do you do on stage when you’re playing a blind person? Stare straight ahead and pretend you don’t see? That’s ‘tricks,’ you know?”
Nick Nolte, Robert Shaw and Jacqueline Bisset are treasure hunters in the Peter Benchley thriller, “The Deep.”
"Who'll Stop the Rain"
Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld in the Vietnam War-era drama “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (1978), based on the Robert Stone novel, “Dog Soldiers.”
"North Dallas Forty"
Nick Nolte starred with Mac Davis (left) in Ted Kotcheff’s football comedy “North Dallas Forty.”
Nick Nolte and Ann Dusenberry in the Beat Generation drama “Heart Beat” (1980).
Debra Winger and Nick Nolte in “Cannery Row” (1982), adapted from the writings of John Steinbeck.
Nick Nolte played a San Francisco cop who springs a low-life (Eddie Murphy) from jail just long enough to help him catch a cop-killer, in the comedy-drama “48 Hrs” (1982).
Nick Nolte and Joanna Cassidy are photojournalists on the battlelines of a Central American revolution in “Under Fire” (1983).
JoBeth Williams and Nick Nolte in the 1984 satire on high school education, “Teachers.”
"Down and Out in Beverly Hills"
In Paul Mazursky’s 1986 comedy “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” a remake of the Jean Renoir classic “Boudu Saved From Drowning,” Nick Nolte (pictured with Mike the Dog) plays a homeless man who ingratiates himself into the household of a wealthy but somewhat dysfunctional L.A. family.
Maria Conchita Alonso and Nick Nolte in the Walter Hill action film, “Extreme Prejudice.”
Nick Nolte is an inmate who writes and stages plays in the prison drama, “Weeds” (1987). He earned his second Golden Globe nomination.
Cowan asked if getting into character was a way to get away from real life.
“No, no. It’s just the opposite of that,” Nolte replied. “It’s a way to get away from real life to hook into a story that then becomes bigger than your character, that then becomes the representative of life. And that only happens 5% of the time, but when you’re in a show like that, or a film like that, people can’t talk about it. They’re just stunned. Mesmerized. I call it ‘awe.’ If you create awe, that’s the key.”
"Farewell to the King"
In “Farewell to the King” (1989), written and directed by John Milius, Nick Nolte starred as a deserter during World War II who becomes the divine leader of a tribe on the island of Borneo.
"New York Stories"
In “Life Lessons,” Martin Scorsese’s contribution to the trilogy film “New York Stories,” Nick Nolte played an abstract artist who is jealous over his assistant (Rosanna Arquette).
"Q & A"
Nick Nolte is a New Your detective, and Timothy Hutton is an assistant D.A. investigating a police shooting involving Nolte, in Sidney Lumet’s crime thriller “Q&A” (1990).
"The Prince of Tides"
In director Barbra Streisand’s film of Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides” (1991), Nolte plays a football coach who confers with his suicidal sister’s psychiatrist (Streisand) about his family’s dark past. Their relationship veers from professional to romantic.
“Barbra was just great,” Nolte told Cowan. “I mean, I got so much respect for her. We had real good chemistry.”
Nolte received his first Academy Award nomination, and won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Drama).
Nick Nolte as lawyer Sam Bowden, whose family is terrorized when ex-con Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is released from prison, in Martin Scorsese’s remake of the thriller “Cape Fear” (1991).
In an interview with David Morgan in 1991, Nolte said of his character, “He may be more of an animal at the end than Max Cady.”
He recognized upon accepting the role that Bowden was not a heroic figure as typically drafted in Hollywood films. “And maybe that’s just something that we deny ourselves in life - we do not accept the primitive man in ourselves. We constantly put up this front of civilization and then are shocked when we find ourselves in war, or that we are war-like people. We are violent people, and we have to come to grips with that.
“And the way to come to grips with it is not through denial; you have to assimilate it and transform it into something else - creativity or whatever, you have to channel it. Certainly if you don’t come to grips with the warrior inside of you, it’ll eat you up. This is one thing that Max Cady knows; he has that wisdom of knowing the lower depths.”
Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte stars as a couple seeking a cure for the adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) affecting their son, Lorenzo (Zach O’Malley), in the 1992 drama “Lorenzo’s Oil,” a true story directed by George Miller.
"I Love Trouble"
Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts are competing reporters who fall for each other - it’s a romantic comedy - in “I Love Trouble” (1994).
"Jefferson in Paris"
Nick Nolte as the founding father-slave owner and Thandie Newton as Sally Hemings in the Merchant-Ivory production of “Jefferson in Paris” (1995).
Nick Nolte as an L.A. detective and Jennifer Connelly as a person of interest in the crime thriller “Mulholland Falls” (1996).
Nick Nolte is a Nazi propagandist working for U.S. intelligence in Keith Gordon’s adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel, “Mother Night” (1996).
Nolte recalled being joined by Vonnegut at a screening: “[It] was a good film. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. And we didn’t talk until we got back in the limo. And he said, ‘They were disturbed, weren’t they?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘That’s good.’”
Nick Nolte and Julie Christie are a couple whose marriage is in trouble in the Alan Rudolph film “Afterglow” (1997).
Nick Nolte and Jennifer Lopez appeared in the Oliver Stone crime thriller “U Turn” (1997).
Nick Nolte (with Sissy Spacek) is a policeman still living with the effects of his abusive father in Paul Schrader’s drama “Affliction.” Nolte earned his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award. James Coburn, who played Nolte’s dad, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Noting it contained one of his finer performances, Nolte said “Affliction” was “a real negative film [about] a guy who does not know how to love. And I’ve seen an audience with it, and they’re with the guy, ‘cause he’s trying, and then he fails and they go, ‘Oh, no.’ And then he fails again. ‘Oh, no!’ And it’s just a matter of ‘On-nos,’ all the way to the end.”
He says an actor can go deeper in films, even though the film’s financers may not like it. “The audiences will appreciate it tremendously, because you’ll get some Japanese lady that’ll come up and say, “’Affliction,’ how do you know that?’”
"The Thin Red Line"
Nick Nolte plays an Army officer leading his troops in the Battle of Quadalcanal in Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” (1998), from the book by James Jones.
"The Golden Bowl"
Uma Thurman and NIck Nolte in the Merchant-Ivory production of “The Golden Bowl” (2000), based on the Henry James novel.
Brittany Murphy and Nick Nolte in the mystery “Trixie” (2000).
"The Good Thief"
Nick Nolte in the crime-thriller “The Good Thief” (2002),a remake of the French film noir classic, “Bob le flambeur.”
Nick Nolte played the father of scientist Dr. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) in the superhero origin story, “Hulk” (2003).
In the drama “Hotel Rwanda” (2004), Nick Nolte played a U.N. peacekeeper opposite Don Cheadle as the owner of a hotel that is a haven for those fleeing the Rwandan genocide.
Nick Nolte played a Vietnam vet whose memoirs are the basis of a Hollywood film, the production of which proves to be a dicey operation, in the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder” (2008).
In the 2011 remake of the comedy classic “Arthur,” Russell Brand played the boozy spoiled rich boy set to marry a rich socialite (Jennifer Garner). Nick Nolte is the unhappy father of the bride.
In “Warrior” (2011), Tom Hardy played a fighter in a mixed martial arts tournament. Nick Nolte, playing Hardy’s recovering alcoholic father, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Nick Nolte, a Best Supporting Actor nominee for “Warrior,” poses at the 31st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., Feb. 6, 2012.
Actors Nick Nolte and Dustin Hoffman arrive at the premiere of HBO’s “Luck” at the Chinese Theater on Jan. 25, 2012, in Los Angeles.
"The Trials of Cate McCall"
Kate Beckinsale is an attorney (and an alcoholic) in the drama “The Trials of Cate McCall” (2013), co-starring Nick Nolte.
In the crime series “Gracepoint” (inspired by the British TV series “Broadchurch”), Nick Nolte played one of the locals in the seaside town where a detective (David Tennant) is investigating a boy’s murder.
"A Walk in the Woods"
Based on Bill Bryson’s comic travel book, “A Walk in the Woods” (2015) starred Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as old friends who embark on a hike of the Appalachian Trail.
Lee Cowan said, “That character was about trying to figure out if taking a risk is worth it or not?”
“Yeah,” Nolte said. “And his philosophy is, a risk is worth it.”
Actor Nick Nolte poses during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah.