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Jack Nicholson is . . . well, Jack Nicholson.

He is waxing philosophical, talking about growing up and growing old in Hollywood and about the stars who inspired him.

Pulling on a Camel filter, he matter-of-factly welcomes the idea that just about everyone in Hollywood thinks he's a god.

"I don't like to think of myself that way," he tells a reporter, before continuing with his impeccable timing: "(But) I don't mind if somebody else thinks that . . ."

All right, so he's not really a deity, but Nicholson certainly is idolized as a demigod by millions of film fans as well as those in the business of making movies.

When Nicholson fixes a reporter with that eye, one brow raised quizzically, mockingly, nearly four decades of movie images flash by.

From schlock Roger Corman B-movies to his breakthrough in "Easy Rider," through hits such as "Chinatown," "Reds" and "The Shining," Nicholson is that rarity: a true Hollywood legend.

Witness "As Good As It Gets," in which he plays a cynical, aging writer romancing waitress Helen Hunt. The film won Nicholson best actor honors from the National Board of Review three weeks even before its scheduled Christmas Day opening.

"I've done a lot of films . . . I make 'em and then let the chips fall where they may and I always hope they're going to do great. (But) I can't think of a movie I ever made that was easy to make," he said.

"It's only a few years ago that I woke up one morning and said: 'Holy s---! You gave your life to this?'

"I started off as a guy who loved good-looking young women . . . I luck into the studio, I liked it (films), I get drawn into it. (Now) I'm hooked on it," Nicholson said.

The father of two children out of wedlock, Nicholson had a five-year marriage early in his career to actress Sandra Knight and for many years was the constant companion of actress Anjelica Huston.

"I think as you get older the range of things you're trying to illustrate broadens," he said of his part in "As Good As It Gets," playing a man with a compulsive-obsessive disorder.

"Everywhere I go, they're shocked by my actual age," said Nicholson, 60. "I'm not, as you know, a health fiend. I mean, I do my professional job to get looking right for that, but I also don't resist a lot of things that other people resist."

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