Jack Nicholson was more than a drop in The Bucket List

LOS ANGELES–You would not think that after dozens of movies, four Academy Award nominations, and one Oscar win that Morgan Freeman would consider the choice of his costar to be more important than the script. However, Freeman admits that he had little interest in working on a film called The Bucket List when he first read the script.

In fact, he was still reluctant even after rewrites and a commitment, from director Rob Reiner, to make changes to the material. It wasn't until his wish for a costar was granted that he agreed to star in the movie.

"I got a call from Rob about this script that I had read before and had turned down. I read it again and I thought, 'In the right hands, this will be a good script.' I told Rob, 'It needs one actor.' He said 'Who?' and I said 'Jack Nicholson.' He said, 'Jack? All right! Let's try it.'"

Nicholson eventually agreed, and he and Freeman star in the film, which tells the story of a mechanic, Carter Chambers (Freeman), and a billionaire, Edward Cole (Nicholson), who are treated for cancer at a private hospital owned by Cole.

When Chambers makes out a list of things he hasn't done that he wants to do before he dies, Cole tells him that they should spend the last of their days making it happen. (The film opens January 11 in Vancouver.)

Freeman, who is 70, says that unlike his character, there aren't too many things that he hasn't done that he feels the need to do now. He says that a decision he made almost 50 years ago has stood him well. "I was looking for an adventure. I would go to airports and try to be a fighter pilot. I was 21. I had the opportunity to sit in the plane, and I thought, 'This ain't it.' I knew there was only one other choice in my life and that was acting, so I started to key in on that."

Freeman got along with Nicholson as well as he thought he would, and he says that he found something out about him that he didn't know ­: Nicholson agonizes over every line of the script until he feels that each works the way he wants it to.

"He came up to me at one point and said, 'I am probably going to drive you crazy because when I work I am up nights antsing over little things. I will be doing that and coming back and talking to you the next day about it.' I said, 'That's fine. My joy is you, and what you do in your off time is your business.' He really just changes minor stuff. He is a great shaper. He looks at colons and semicolons, and that can make a difference.

"But it wouldn't have mattered if the script had all been tossed in the toilet. I was working with Jack Nicholson. That was all I needed."