'I'm Jack Nicholson's Daughter—I Wish People Could Call Me a Nepo Baby'

In recent months, "nepo baby" is the worst thing you could ever call the successful child of a celebrity. Yet, as Jack Nicholson's "illegitimate" daughter, it's a label that I would be thrilled to have applied to me.

One by one, a host of celebrity offspring have stepped forward to downplay the positive impact their connections have had on their own careers in the entertainment field. I was particularly incensed when Lily-Rose Depp (who it should be noted I am a fan of) suggested that it was misogynistic to be labeled a nepo baby, when it is unquestionable that her being the child of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis is why the proverbial doors were opened for her.

Having grown up without my father, I've sat on the sidelines and watched in frustration as other celebrity children have seamlessly secured roles or been signed to huge agencies. More recently, I have grown even more frustrated at what I think is a missed opportunity for these so-called "nepo babies" to own their position and embrace it instead of complaining about it.

Jack Nicholson and his daughter, Tessa Gourin
Actor and artist Tessa Gourin has spoken out her experience as the daughter of Jack Nicholson (pictured left on March 5, 2006 in Hollywood, California). Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic;/Tessa Gourin

As an actor, I know how difficult it is to get facetime with a casting director or to be considered for a role. Moreover, to even know about the audition in the first place is a huge privilege in itself. Having compelling scripts sent your way is a gift that should never be downplayed.

It is no secret that Hollywood was built on connections. However, once those doors open, you have to roll up your sleeves and get to work, which should be an exciting prospect if you truly love acting as an art form. You can't continually book the work without the talent.

Look at Drew Barrymore. She comes from an acting dynasty and she's also incredible in her own right. And would we really dismiss Jane Fonda as a "nepo baby," given that she is a talented woman who has achieved longevity through countless incredible performances? When I saw Klute, the last thing I was concerned with was how she got in the room. As an actor I was thinking, "How cool would it be to explore a role like that!"

Distant Relationship

It's probably difficult for some to fathom exactly how I could have a legendary actor for a father, but not count myself among the enviably connected. The truth is, in all of my 28 years of life, we have never had a relationship.

Although I flew from New York City to Los Angeles to meet on the odd occasion as a young girl (at the behest of my mother), it was always clear that he wanted no part in my life. Have you ever been on a date and sensed that the other person just wasn't feeling it? That's pretty much how every interaction I have ever had with Jack Nicholson has gone. Harsh though it may seem, I hold no bitterness toward him for his decision, though it's taken a while for me to understand it.

I don't hide the fact that Jack Nicholson is my biological father. Why should I? However, it is also not something I've ever led with in a conversation. So many people have been forced to live with the pain of a parent's absence, famous or not. But it makes it that much harder when that absent parent is actively in the lives of their other children, which is the case for me.

Tessa Gourin as a young child
Tessa Gourin is pictured as a young girl growing up in New York City. Tessa Gourin

Like the rest of the world, Jack has always been a source of fascination for me. In more recent years, when I've had the urge to know more about him, I've watched his old interviews or acceptance speeches on YouTube. It's through this that I've discovered we have the same sense of humor. I even read Anjelica Huston's memoir, Watch Me, for the sole purpose of gaining an insight into the years she spent with him. I think he's one of the greatest actors of all time (groundbreaking opinion, I know). I heard he likes to paint, as do I. He is also said to be a student of method acting, which I am too. If there is anything I am mourning, it is not a father-daughter relationship, but an artist-to-artist connection that we could have shared had the circumstances been different. In the end, he's a celebrity with whom I just happen to share DNA.

It should be noted that Jack was never a "deadbeat dad." I grew up on the Upper East Side and went to (and was thrown out of) many prestigious private schools, through his financial help. That being said, an all-girls Catholic school wasn't the most fitting place for me. The whispers every time my young, hot, Juicy Couture sweatsuit-wearing mom picked me up from school meant that I never forgot that I was the result of a womanizing actor's fling with someone who was then a young waitress.

The "Illegitimate" Daughter

The most frustrating part of my life is being described as Jack Nicholson's "alleged" daughter or "illegitimate" child. I feel like I'm living in the 1500s when that term is used to describe me. Whatever the dictionary definition, I'm very much legitimate. I'm not something to be ashamed of. While Jack has never publicly acknowledged that he is my biological father, I exist in a very major way. If you know me personally, you know that I'm not exactly someone who fades into the background...trust me I've tried. I've grown up feeling like I have to apologize for existing and it's exhausting.

Since I can remember, I have always wanted to act. As a little girl, I would dress up as Orphan Annie and refused to take that curly red wig off. Looking back, I'm sure genetics were instrumental in my instinctual desire to act. Another part of it could well be because of how present the idea of Jack was in my life, despite his physical absence.

Tessa Gourin growing up in NYC
Tessa has had a desire to act she was a young child. Tessa Gourin

These complicated feelings that characterize my childhood have served as an advantage as an actor. I study The Method with an acting teacher named Tony Greco, who trained the renowned Philip Seymour Hoffman. These classes, which I attend in the basement of a theater on the Lower East Side, have taught me to live out my complex life experiences and relationships on the stage. Betty from Paddy Chayefsky's play Middle of The Night was a vehicle I used to process my relationship, or lack thereof, with Jack Nicholson.

Here's the deal: in many ways, I appreciate that my upbringing was unique. Jack Nicholson has affected every part of my life imaginable. One of the most influential actors happens to be my biological father and for whatever reason, he isn't interested in having a relationship. This has always left me conflicted about pursuing something I truly love.

As an adult, I have experienced guilt about wanting to be an actor. I have felt like I didn't have the right to pursue the thing I love because acting is "his" thing. When his children that he acknowledges pursue acting, that's fine; but if I want to pursue acting, it's "tacky" or "exploitative."

My acting teacher has always said that he wants his students to be such great actors that even people who hate their guts can't argue with how good they are. I want to show people that I am so dedicated to my craft as an actor that the scandal regarding the rest of my life is a separate issue.

I hope that those privileged enough to be called "nepo babies" are taking the same approach. Yes, your mommy or daddy might be famous, but just embrace it and be thankful it opened a door for you. Then put in the work to prove that you deserve it.

Tessa Gourin is a New York City-based multifaceted artist whose primary focus is acting. She is also a ceramicist, whose pieces are sold at the store where she works on the Lower East Side. Her Instagram is @tessadotgourin

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Newsweek has reached out to a representative of Jack Nicholson for comment.

As told to Newsweek senior culture reporter, Ryan Smith.

Tessa Gourin today
Tessa is also a ceramicist, selling her work at the New York City design and gift store she works at. Tessa Gourin