By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 24, 2002 11:00 AM

Friday brings the 40th annual New York Film Festival to the Big Apple. It will also bring Jack Nicholson, whose movie, “About Schmidt,” won raves at Cannes and now opens this year’s festivities at Lincoln Center.

In the film, Nicholson, 65, hits the road just as he did in 1969’s “Easy Rider,” the film that made him a star. Only instead of being a youthful and rebellious Southern lawyer aboard a Harley-Davidson, Nicholson’s Schmidt is a retired and widowed insurance actuary from Nebraska who decides to take off in a Winnebago.

“This is very specifically a muted performance,” the star tells The New York Times.

And while Nicholson may have three Oscars to his name — two as Best Actor (for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and 1997’s “As Good as It Gets”) and one as Supporting Actor (1983’s “Terms of Endearment”) — he also admits to having the jitters about acting, sometimes.

Back when he was making “The Missouri Breaks,” in 1976, Jack recalls, “I remember waking up one morning and this was halfway through the movie, and I couldn’t move because I thought: ‘Wait a minute! I’m in a movie with Marlon Brando, the patron saint.’ Now, mind you, he’s my neighbor, so that’s why it occurred to me so late.”

Nicholson admits, “I was practically immobilized by it. But I worked through it.”

And, all these years later, the feeling hasn’t let up. “There’s a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don’t know what in the world I’m going to do,” he says. “It’s free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.”