The part of Hanson was a lucky break for Nicholson—the role had in fact been written for actor Rip Torn who was a close friend of screen writer Terry Southern but Torn withdrew from the project after a bitter argument with the film's director and co-star Dennis Hopper during which the two men almost came to blows. He worked frequently with director Monte Hellman as well on low-budget westerns though two in particular Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting initially failed to find interest from any US film distributors but gained cult success on the art house circuit in France and were later sold to television. Thompson then left a freshly-cut elk's heart on Nicholson's door as a joke before leaving when it appeared that nobody would exit the house.
Nicholson was one of only two actors to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in every decade from the 1960s to 2000s; the other being Michael Caine. Notable films in which he has starred include Easy Rider Five Easy Pieces The Last Detail Chinatown The Passenger The Shining Reds Wolf A Few Good Men The Pledge About Schmidt and The Departed. Nicholson has twice won the Academy Award for Best Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and for As Good as It Gets.