Faye Dunaway: Through The Eyes Of Faye Dunaway

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Faye Dunaway?  Odds are, it’s Mommie Dearest and “no wire hangers”.  Here at Le Blog where we have a long-running series detailing the career embarrassments of the Golden Raspberry Awards (at which Dunaway was a regular nominee), we tend to focus on that sort of thing.

Dunaway’s fall from grace was sharp and memorable because at one point, she was one of the top actresses in Hollywood.  Stephen Rebello, who interviewed the actress for the June 2002 issue of Movieline magazine, mainly sticks to the highlights of Dunaway’s career while getting gabby about her famous costars.

Faye Dunaway can’t stop talking about Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. Dunaway, who looks svelte and elegant in a clingy blouse and tailored slacks, has just swept grandly into the Ivy to meet me for dinner when she spots the rap entrepreneur ensconced at the restaurant’s most visible patio table yakking away on his cell while an entourage of 10 chill out. Dunaway and I both find fascination and humor in the power plays of the self-enchanted. Her sharp gaze takes in the spectacle of Combs’s mountain-sized, headset-wearing security guy patrolling the sidewalk outside the restaurant while a fleet of his matching black SUVs hog the precious parking spots on Robertson Boulevard.

“Do you suppose everyone at Mr. Combs’s table is a bodyguard?” she wonders with merry malice. She nods her head toward two bodyguards pacing the street. “I guess those two are also with Mr. Combs, although I couldn’t get them to admit it,” she says. “I asked, ‘Does Mr. Combs hang out here?’ but they said, ‘We don’t know.’ Well, he’s a very clever guy, I must say.”

When I ask her, tongue in cheek, if she could possibly be star-struck, she shakes her head, lets out a delighted hoot and says, “It’s the comedy of this I’m enjoying.”

While Dunaway is taking in a power player strutting his stuff during his hour on the stage, others in the restaurant are watching Dunaway, a true Hollywood legend.

Since Dunaway sparked a worldwide sensation in 1967 as the on-the-make, mercurial gangster’s moll in Bonnie and Clyde–her third movie and first Oscar nomination–she’s been quickening the air around Hollywood. No wonder. She came to town fully loaded with singular good looks, innocent carnality, magnetism and acting chops. Right away, she was on the cover of virtually every major magazine, got photographed wherever she went, earned record-breaking salaries, was sought after for top projects and entered romantic relationships with Lenny Bruce, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Harris Yulin and Marcello Mastroianni.

Though fiercely modern, an ideal female analog for screen machos like Steve McQueen and the young Jack Nicholson, she also radiated the stuff vintage movie stars are made of. “I want to be treated like a movie star,” she admitted to a reporter in the ’60s and Old Hollywood looked ready to oblige. Joan Crawford pronounced her “the only girl around who has the guts and glamour to pull it off.” Pull it off she often did. After Bonnie and Clyde, Dunaway starred in the box-office hits The Thomas Crown Affair, The Towering Inferno, Chinatown (for which she was nominated for her second Oscar), Three Days of the Condor, Network (for which she won an Oscar), The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Champ. Any actress today would be lucky to have a fraction of those films on her resume.

Dunaway has since worked consistently. Though the Grand Guignol spectacle that was 1981’s Mommie Dearest led to a decade of lackluster work (with the exception of her brilliant turn in 1987’s Barfly), her career picked up again in the ’90s. She costarred gracefully with Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco, won a Golden Globe for playing Angelina Jolie’s mentor in the cable hit Gia and was a memorable member of the stunning ensemble The Yards, which starred Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. She garnered even better notices onstage, for playing tempestuous opera legend Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s award-winning play Master Class.

These days, Dunaway is trying to balance acting with directing. She is getting nice advance word for her role as a crackpot drug-addled mother in Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction, which is due in theaters this fall. And she’s recently directed her first short, The Yellow Bird, which was well-received on the Women’s Entertainment network. What she’s truly excited about, though, is the project she’ll direct herself in–the film version of Master Class. On top of all that, she’s beginning work on a graduate degree in filmmaking at USC.

STEPHEN REBELLO: I’ve wanted to interview you for a longtime and I’m glad it’s finally happening.

FAYE DUNAWAY: It’s unusual for me to give interviews. But it’s also very unusual that you want to talk to me because there aren’t as many people who want to interview me now.

Q: Do you think it could be due in part to the press reports that characterize you as temperamental?

A: Oh, the tales, the scandals–all that press. I just don’t have time for it anymore.People will say whatever they say and I have no power over it. I don’t think it matters what they say about me–all that matters is the work.

Q: Do you see yourself as temperamental?

A: I get the knocks. I certainly haven’t been able to sail through this stardom that was given to me unscathed. [Laughs] If there’s a little bit of temperament in the mix, well, I’ll put it this way–I have a line in Master Class, the first feature I’m going to direct, which is a movie of the play I did about Maria Callas. In it, somebody calls Callas “temperamental” and a character says, “She has temperament–quick and fast emotion. It’s what you pay her for.” That comes from my mentor whom I asked once, “Do you think I’m difficult?” and he said, “You have temperament.” Of course, I have moments of unreasonableness. I’m a human being.

Q: The buzz on The Rules of Attraction is very good and there are some interesting young actors in it, including Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon and James Van Der Beek. What do you play?

A: The mother of Ian Somerhalder. Swoosie Kurtz is in it, too, and we play a couple of pill-heads and alcoholics. We come into this world where our sons are behaving outrageously and we’re too flaked out to really do anything about it.

Q: Are there any young standouts in the cast?

A: Ian Somerhalder is going to be the next hot young boy in town. I did a take with him and, man, his eyes were coming at me. When we finished, I said, “Boy, that’s some real Depp-Cruise energy coming at me there.”

Q: Knowing as much as you do about moviemaking, is it ever hard for you to be on movie sets with people who aren’t as experienced as you?

A: I’m afraid I’ve gotten even craggier. [Laughs] If they ask, “Can you come down the stairs five times?” I say, “No, I’m not coming down five times. I’ll come down once. Get your act together.” [Laughs] No, I try to be sweet, gentle and understanding.

Q: Let’s talk about Old Hollywood. What was it like in the late ’60s, when you first came on the scene?

A: Like a place I couldn’t stay in for very long without my head feeling like cotton.

Q: During the ’60s and ’70s L.A. was famous for its incredible parties. Did you partake?

A: I never liked parties, never felt comfortable. I was a little girl from the South and people were terribly judgmental. Oh, I had a hard time. I never felt good enough. I had large insecurities.

Q: But I’ve seen photographs of you from that era where you look very happily part of the “in crowd.” Was that acting?

A: Well, sure, there are pictures of me with Bob Evans and other people looking like I’m having fun. But even if you’ve paid your dues in this town and you’re doing well, you can never truly relax because it’s so competitive.

Q: At the time you were the hot girl in the business. What did that feel like?

A: The success was big. It was a big career. It was pretty much a roller-coaster ride. It was like being in the eye of the hurricane–on the one hand, you’re exhilarated, on the other hand, there’s terrible loneliness. There was a feeling of power to a certain degree, a feeling of having made it. It’s what Nicole Kidman must be feeling. But I had a lot of demons then. And I have a lot of demons now that I’ve been fighting as assiduously as St. George with his dragon. So far, knock wood–my head, that is–my son’s doing pretty well and I keep coming through.

Q: Bonnie and Clyde was a huge hit, partly because you and costar Warren Beatty had electric chemistry. Why didn’t you work with him again?

A: It’s a shame, I agree. Well, he’s had an awful long string of girls he’s worked with since then. [Laughs] Julie Christie, with whom he was very much in love when he made Shampoo; Diane Keaton, whom he directed in Reds; and his wife Annette. I would love it if we could find one more film to work on.

Q: Have you seen him much since Bonnie and Clyde?

A: I spent pretty much the entire ’80s living in London. When I was coming back I was trying to figure out how I could pick up my career again. When I was flying business class from New York to L.A., Warren was on the same plane. He left first class to sit with me for the entire flight. He knew that I was struggling to find a way to come back. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I was really knocked out by his doing that. That’s class. I remember he once told me, “You’ve got a lot of class.” That’s the compliment that’s meant the most to me.

Q: Did you ever date him?

A: It was always a platonic relationship. It was never a love affair. But I really have a special place in my heart for him. Warren is someone I’ve always looked up to.

Q: Soon after Bonnie and Clyde you made another hit, The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen. Was he as tough as some say?

A: He was a chivalrous guy, though hopelessly double-standard in believing the myth that women should be barefoot and pregnant, which his wife Ali MacGraw suffered from for quite some time. But he was a darling. I connected with him in a way that I didn’t with any of the others. I adored him. I have no idea why, except that you sensed his soul. You sensed that he was fighting against something.

Q: What do you have to say about Chinatown, which is pretty much perfection in terms of performance, style, writing, construction and mood?

A: Jack Nicholson was like a soul mate–a generous, kind, giving gentleman. Although he’s very different from Tennessee Williams, Robert Towne writes beautiful, heartbreaking lines that have only five words to them.

Q: Robert Evans, who produced Chinatown, said that every time director Roman Polanski yelled “Cut!” you ran to have your makeup and hair redone.

A: That’s part of the job.

Q: Do you keep up with Robert?

A: I’m happy for Bob. This movie done about his book [The Kid Stays in the Picture] is apparently very good. It’s given him a new lease on life.

Q: Three Days of the Condor is a fun ride to watch. How was the ride with costar Robert Redford?

A: A lot of people like that film. I loved doing it because it gave me a chance to play a girl who was just living her life. With Robert, it was mostly on the screen. Maybe it was just the point of development I was at, but I found him a little unreachable, unapproachable. Maybe I was frightened of him. But we never got on, in terms of being soul mates.

Q: A few years later you won an Oscar for Network. Did you get along well with costar William Holden?

A: At first I didn’t want him to star. Being the rebel, I said, “Oh, come on, you’ve gotta get Robert Mitchum,” whom they had been talking about for that role. For those of us in the Nicholson world, Mitchum had such allure. But Sidney Lumet knew there would have been nothing but trouble with Mitchum. Holden had such dignity and Sidney knew that he would hold the movie together. Holden was a truly lovely man.

Q: Have people underrated any movie you’ve made?

A: Puzzle of a Downfall Child. I really love that film. It’s about a fragile model who has a very precarious existence because it’s all about what she looks like. You can’t mention any more of my past movies. [Laughs]

Q: Why not?

A: Because you’re avoiding one I don’t want to talk about.

Q: You mean that movie in which you play a certain very famous, child-abusing movie star diva?

A: [Laughs] Yeah but…exploitation, exploitation, exploitation. That’s what it was. It was scary. But I’m not going to talk about it.

Q: Let’s discuss some movies you came close to doing. The Chase?

A: I wanted to do it with Brando but they told me I wasn’t pretty enough and Jane Fonda got the part.

Q: The Great Gatsby?

A: I terribly wanted to play Daisy and I tested for it, but didn’t get it.

Q: Julia?

A: I wish I hadn’t turned it down because Jane Fonda said she wanted me, but I had just won the Oscar, had fallen in love, so I wanted to be quieter somehow.

Q: Hitchcock’s Family Plot?

A: I don’t remember why I said no because I had some wonderful meetings with Hitchcock.

Q: The Group?

A: I wanted that badly but Candice Bergen got it. I felt I couldn’t measure up to her beauty. That was before Candy found her niche. Do you know she once called me a barracuda? [Laughs]

Q: Why?

A: Because of the way I play Monopoly. She said I played with absolute menace. But I just love Monopoly.

Q: What other films did you regret having passed on?

A: It’s a fascinating line of questioning you’re following. People always look at one’s career and say, “She should have done this instead,” but, the truth is, there are very few good projects around in any era. The fact that I’ve gotten more than one is really rare.

Q: Which stars have impressed you?

A: I met Barbara Stanwyck, who was fantastic. Dietrich was one of the stars I always admired. I wish I’d gotten to know her. I really wish I’d gotten to know Ida Lupino–what a strong, ballsy, gutsy lady.

Q: Speaking of strong and ballsy, haven’t you been a friend and unofficial mentor to Sharon Stone?

A: She says that when Basic Instinct came out that I was sort of there with her. I understand the kind of success she had with that movie and it is mind-blowing. You think they’re handling it well but it’s really wearing, mentally. I’m sure people might hear that and say, “Yeah, some problem.” [Laughs] But we all have our fears. She’s a pretty formidable woman herself. I just love her and thank God she’s going to be fine and healthy now. I feel we’re kind of cut from the same cloth. She’s got a wonderful, sassy gutsiness about her.

Q: Does seeing someone like Ellen Burstyn, a mature actress, doing so well give you a charge?

A: What do you mean, doing so well? She’s a mom on a sitcom. Do I want to do that?

Q: But she received an Oscar nomination for Requiem for a Dream and she’s starring in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. That ain’t bad.

A: I turned down Requiem for a Dream. I didn’t want to play it. I’ve had a different career, you know. I’ve made a choice in the past few years and that is to honor a dream I’ve had since the beginning of my career, which is to write and direct. My calling was acting but I don’t know that it is anymore.

Q: Why have you lost your patience with acting?

A: I have very little patience for the way things are done now. I’m very grateful for the success that I’ve had, but there’s also a terrible fragility to this glass menagerie world we live in, if I may borrow a metaphor from Tennessee Williams. It’s a terribly sick world that success brings and there’s a real wicked living-off-other-people aspect to fame that I had a lot of.

Q: As you’ve matured, have people in the Industry ever made you feel passé?

A: Things change as you grow older. I see it as a challenge.

Q: Do you get frustrated because you see someone like Jack Nicholson still getting major roles, but those just don’t exist for you?

A: He’s got every major role coming. They line up for him. He’s a brilliant personality and actor and society is giving him the kinds of chances he’s getting because of those things and because he’s a man. They don’t give those chances to women.

Q: So part of why you’re directing now is out of passion and necessity?

A: Yes and I’m doing Master Class because it is about things that I understand. It’s about a big career, the path of the artist, the kind of 8 1/2 odyssey we all go through, what it means, what sacrifices you have to make to get there and stay there. It’s a great love story in the Casablanca vein with Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis. Al Pacino would play a perfect Onassis, because he’s got that crazy audacity and flash.

Q: Your short film The Yellow Bird received a nice response on the Women’s Entertainment network. Why did you decide to tackle Tennessee Williams your first time out?

A: We’re both very Southern, so I am able to find the connective tissues and the rhythms in his work.

Q: To invoke the title of your autobiography, are you still Looking for Gatsby? Have you met anyone in your private life who’s made your knees buckle?

A: [Laughs] I haven’t given up hope. I’m a definite loner at the moment and have been for quite a few years. But I think I could fall in love again.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

A: For a long time, I tried to live up to something that was in people’s minds. I don’t know what it is they want, nor do they, but movie stars fulfill some lack in people’s lives. What I realized long ago is that any time people put you on a pedestal, you’re doomed to disappoint. I can’t possibly be who they want me to be because, mainly, they want me to answer all their dreams. But we’re just people with flaws, insecurities. Maybe more insecurities than anybody else.


Stephen Rebello interviewed Neil LaBute for the May issue of Movieline.


Posted on June 9, 2017, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’m glad “Barfly” got a mention here; I think Dunaway is pretty fantastic as Wanda, the smart, pretty, and somewhat mean booze cruiser. Thing is, after “Mommie Dearest”, Dunaway did “The Wicked Lady”; I happened to catch a lot of it last weekend, and boy, I can’t say I like it (fine cast though: Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Delholm Elliott, Marina Sirtis…but i just don’t think Dunaway and the rest of the crew could save the material, although it looked to me like they really tried).


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