Why Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson feuded during ‘Chinatown’
(Credit: Netflix)


Why Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson feuded during 'Chinatown'

During the 1970s, American cinema experienced significant shifts in its national identity with the rise of the New Hollywood movement. This transformative era, fueled by the innovative creations of emerging auteurs such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, completely revolutionized the cinematic landscape. One notable masterpiece from this period is Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson in a standout performance.

The 1974 neo-noir drew from the extensive American noir traditions cultivated by Hollywood while transcending the limitations of its predecessors. It starred Nicholson as a private detective who gets caught up in an ever-deepening conspiracy after taking a case, painting a timelessly intriguing portrait of Los Angeles. In the years that have followed, many talented directors have attempted to recapture the cinematic atmosphere of the film, but only a few have succeeded.

While the legacy of the movie has been immortalised in popular culture, the countless stories from its notorious production process have also piqued the interest of fans all over the world. Polanski’s on-set disagreements with Faye Dunaway are well-known, but the filmmaker also had a major clash with Nicholson. According to the reports from crew members, the movie star incurred the wrath of Polanski because of a Los Angeles Lakers game.

Assistant director Howard Koch Jr once recalled: “Roman says, ‘Where is Jack?’ I went back to Jack, and he went, ‘Howie, it’s overtime. I’m not leaving now. Just tell Roman I’ve been waiting an hour-and-a-half. Let him wait for a few minutes.’ So Roman has a cow, and then the game goes into double overtime. We’re all basketball fans, so nobody’s upset except for Roman, who could give a f*ck about the Lakers. ‘Where is he?’ I said, ‘Roman, it’s double overtime.’ He’s like, ‘WHAT THE F*CK IS DOUBLE OVERTIME?!’”

After Nicholson finally arrived to continue the shoot, Polanski wanted to ensure that something like this never happened again. In order to do so, he broke into the actor’s trailer and decided that it was time to eliminate his television privileges. Polanski revealed: “I grabbed a mop and ran inside Jack’s trailer to smash the TV… But I didn’t have enough room, and the damn thing wouldn’t break, so I grabbed the TV and tossed it out the trailer.”

These conflicts plagued the production of Chinatown, but the end product is undeniably masterful. Providing a flawless blueprint for its successors, the 1974 masterpiece has endured the test of time and is routinely cited as one of the most impactful achievements of the New Hollywood movement.

Watch Chinatown on Netflix now.