Faye Dunaway, woman of passion

THESSALONIKI – As a guest at the 42nd Thessaloniki Film Festival, the actress Faye Dunaway was honored with the Golden Alexander award for her outstanding contribution to film last Saturday. Meeting the legendary actress in person, however, presents an extra difficulty. How can this unpretentious, direct, sensationally seductive woman, who comes across as warm and easy to converse with, arouse such comments as those of a costume designer who once said that it was easy to pay a visit to Dunaway’s dressing room as long as one had a piece of raw meat to throw at her in order to distract her. No matter how many prima donna-like stories you hear about the 60-year-old star, they all fade when you come across her broad smile and the familiarity with which she welcomes her interlocutor. Femme fatale or sex symbol? Neither of the two, or perhaps both of them together. I feel better as I grow older, more genuine, says the actress. Why did you choose Looking for Gatsby: My Life as the title of your autobiography? Because The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. It combines a search for hope and actual prospects. It is a search, on my part and that of many women, for the ideal man, a father who can make our lives better. Essentially it is a social issue. And as we grow older we realize that this is not the case. It’s mainly about the dream; looking for the green light at Gatsby’s port. And these, more or less, are the issues raised in my autobiography. Your father was in the military. How did that affect your life? We kept relocating every two years. On the one hand it was very tiring; on the other, though, it opened my eyes to the world, made it interesting. When I was young it was hard for me because I had to create new friendships all the time. I adored my father… Rumor has it that you have a highly explosive character, especially with your collaborators. Is that true? I’m a woman of passion and energy and because of this people around me forget that I’m also very sensitive. I wish I could be more patient… I don’t believe, however, that I exaggerate, that I’m unreasonable. I’m patient enough, but at the same time I do like finding quick solutions, without wasting any time. What can I say? I don’t feel I’m too demanding, but I probably am without realizing it… If every actor gives a part of himself when constructing a character, what were the characteristics which you gave to Joan Crawford and Eva Peron? They were both very strong women, but I would rather talk about other roles. I always look for the truth in the characters I interpret. Why don’t you ask me about Bonnie, a woman of great sensitivity? The point is that Crawford and Peron were not the most important roles in my career. What I consider landmark roles are those in Bonnie and Clyde and Network, for instance. Nevertheless I am proud of all my roles. Evita was a woman of courage; people were afraid of her. Crawford, on the other hand, was sad, deep down. She was forced to demonstrate her ambition as a weapon in order to survive in male-dominated Hollywood. In the end she was alone. As for the film, it was more of a construction on Crawford, rather than a portrait of her real character. In any case, the majority of roles I interpreted throughout my career were of strong and singular women. How do you relate to the character of Maria Callas? She was a great artist, a decisive woman of profound feelings. She changed the world of opera and that is precisely the point which interests me: How can someone do something so perfectly and then pass it on to others? That is also the subject of Master Class (Terence McNally’s play which opened in Boston in 1996), and the film about Callas which I’m planning to shoot will be based on the play. The members of the Academy of Motion Pictures decided that the best role of your career was in Network. Do you agree? Oscars are usually not about a specific role, but more of an overall evaluation of an actor’s career. I already had two nominations for Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde. My time came to pick up an Oscar. I don’t want to downgrade the role, but I believe that the previous ones were more important. How tough is it to grow up in Hollywood? I was not brought up in Hollywood, but all over the world… I meant the film industry. I don’t really know, I can’t compare it to any other job. I imagine that being a journalist has difficulties as well. Generally speaking, anything that has to do with show business is seductive, but rough at the same time. Perhaps the star system is even tougher on women? It’s difficult to separate the illusion from the reality. The public buys the illusion. Therefore it is very difficult to find your own truth within the system. Films such as Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown are considered cinema classics. What, in your own opinion, defines a classic film? Globalization. All those films that are considered great classics touch on this world feeling. Bonnie embodied the fight and the anxiety for freedom, for the dream, and then the demise… Chinatown is about the illusion and is a symbol of a certain cultural decadence. The subject matter of the great classic touches on a collective dream. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Roman Polanski? A good director, lovely and special. It is that great Polish school… Jack (Nicholson) and I often talk about him, thinking that it is such a shame he never went back to New York to make a film. If he returns, he will go straight to prison. Our collaboration was very tense. It was a difficult moment for both of us. He is peculiar, but very good. What about Elia Kazan? He was my mentor. The first great master I ever met. In America he is generally recognized as a teacher. Arthur Penn? Extremely intelligent. Both as a director and a screenwriter. He has great intellectual depth. Sidney Lumet? Quick. Full of energy. Made from the same stuff as Kazan. Dorothy Faye Dunaway Dorothy Faye Dunaway was born in Bascom, Florida, in 1941. She attended Boston University and, after declining a Fulbright fellowship to London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, joined the original training scheme at the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater in New York. In 1967 she appeared in The Happening, Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown, and Bonnie and Clyde, getting her first Oscar nomination. A string of hits followed: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Elia Kazan’s The Arrangement (1969), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and Network (1976), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).

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