Paul Newman Talking Pictures


Paul Newman

An examination of the life of actor Paul Newman, using rarely seen interviews from the BBC archives to tell the story of a career that made him one of Hollywood's greatest stars.


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Transcript


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One of the cinema's true superstars.

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Paul Newman was the blue-eyed all-American with a sparkle

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that audiences couldn't help falling for.

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In the 1960s and '70s,

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he was one of the most popular actors in the world,

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thanks to films like The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke,

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting.

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Onscreen, he specialised in playing charismatic antiheroes

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and lovable rogues.

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Off-screen, he could be more thoughtful

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and serious than many expected.

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As he demonstrated in his 1973 interview with

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Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre,

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which begins with her asking about his first ever role in film.

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I know the film-making career began with something called

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The Silver Chalice.

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LAUGHTER

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Now, I know you wince every time it's mentioned,

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so perhaps we'd like your comments on that.

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Well, the question is really a matter of survival.

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I was grateful that I survived.

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It was nobody's fault, it was just, er...

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It was just the worst film made in the entire era of the 1950s.

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LAUGHTER

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So I get a kind of perverse pleasure out of that. Er...

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It's like being the worst kid on the block.

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You at least get noticed.

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And, er...I certainly got noticed.

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As a matter of fact...

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Er...

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I don't read reviews that much any more,

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but I certainly remember the New Yorker review

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to the exact comma,

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in which they said that I resembled

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a Putnam stop conductor announcing local stops.

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LAUGHTER

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And it should have been time for me to get out of the business, but I didn't.

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It was shown recently on American television, wasn't it?

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Yes, and I took an ad in the LA Times...

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LAUGHTER

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..with a funereal wreath around it,

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saying that I apologised every night at 8:30.

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And everybody tuned in to find out what I was apologising for.

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LAUGHTER

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So it backfired.

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(Jesus, guide my hand.)

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After The Silver Chalice, you came back and did a play,

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but then you went back and made a sequence of films.

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Did you, at this time, begin to feel

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that you were going to get a grip, despite the disastrous start?

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Did you feel yourself warming to film

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as a technique to film performance?

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I never really cared that much.

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And I think if you don't care,

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then you can take the kind of chances that can consolidate your position.

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Do you care about acting?

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Probably not. LAUGHTER

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I care about all of the peripheral things that go into acting.

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I care about the rehearsals, I care about tearing down the script,

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I care about making terribly cerebral judgements about, er...

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the directions in which a character may go.

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The actual performing, the actual getting up

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and having someone shout, "Action,"

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and put a clapperboard in front of you

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and doing your job is very, very dull.

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All the preliminary things are interesting.

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How extensive are the preliminaries?

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Well, I think that varies on how close the part is to me.

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If the part is very close to me

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or what I think of myself as a human being,

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then the preliminary work is...is minimal.

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If...the part is a distance from me, then, er...

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I hold up for a long while.

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Can you give us examples of, say, parts that are close to you

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and have needed relatively little work?

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Butch needed very little work.

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Um...Graziano needed a lot of work.

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Er...the part in The Outrage needed a lot of work.

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Er...

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..the primitives, basically, need more work with me

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than the sophisticated people.

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Do you hanker for the script that arrives that's a good script

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but is a totally different figure

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from anything you've ever done before?

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Well...I hope that my roles are a little more diversified than that.

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Granted, they are contemporary and almost exclusively American.

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On those occasions

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when I've gone very far afield from that,

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it has not been, er...

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..with any great acclaim

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on the part of either the critics or the populous.

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And certainly, an absolute disaster

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as far as the financial backers are concerned.

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So...

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..I don't know whether...

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..that peculiarly American stance that I take

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and contemporary stance, is, er...

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an act of wisdom or an act of fear.

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I suspect it's rather an act of wisdom.

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If you know your own limitations,

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I think you should be prepared to live with them.

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I'm not very good with the classics. I've never had a classical ear.

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Er...

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I seem to be stuck inside of an American skin, like it or not.

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We're going to see The Hustler,

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a piece from the Hustler in a moment.

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Can you tell us about that?

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Because there's a great deal of good pool played in that film.

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Did you have to practise?

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Well, we moved the dining room table out of the dining room

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and put in a pool table for three months.

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And, er...I had the good fortune of learning from William Mosconi,

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who was, at that time, World Champion.

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And I subsequently won a lot of money.

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You'd better not miss, friend.

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I don't rattle, kid.

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But just for that, I'm going to beat you flat.

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That's one.

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That's five.

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That's six.

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That's 10.

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You punk, you two-bit punk, come on, pay up. 100 bucks!

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-You quitting, friend?

-Yeah. I'm quitting.

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Apart from dying rich, happy and in bed, what is your ambition?

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That would just about be good enough.

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LAUGHTER

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Well, if I could be a competitive automobile driver,

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I'd chuck this in a minute.

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But aside from that, no, I'm doing what I like to do.

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Er...there are some...

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..liabilities, but, er...

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in the long run, it's been very good to me.

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But you're quite serious about wanting to be a racing driver.

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Oh, yeah.

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It's pretty hard to start something like that when you're 47.

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LAUGHTER

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You don't want to branch out in any other sphere at all,

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besides films or theatre?

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I think not. I thought about politics for a while

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and realised I had neither the patience, er...

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..for it and possibly conceivably not even the credentials for it.

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But it's... Politics is absolutely medieval.

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And anybody who would get involved with that

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has got to have his blood pressure checked and his brains.

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Because I would have no part of it.

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Would you say, then, that you're in a rut?

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LAUGHTER

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I'm just a happy hooker.

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LAUGHTER

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-Thank you very much indeed.

-APPLAUSE

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Paul Newman enjoyed many box office successes, but perhaps the most

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popular was the enduring classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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It teamed him up with Robert Redford for the first time

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and created one of the cinema's greatest double acts.

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We find him here discussing the film

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with Iain Johnstone in an interview from 1982.

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There came a point in your career

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when you were able to obviously shape it

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because of your own status,

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when you could begin to produce the Newman form and company.

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And I think your first production was Butch Cassidy.

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Had Bill Goldman written the screenplay when it came to you?

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I'd read the script long before it was ever done.

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Maybe a year or so.

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As a matter of fact, Bill Goldman came down to Tucson, where I was shooting a film

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and he stayed there for about three or four days.

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And, er...we just kind of talked it through and worked at it and,

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er...the next time that I saw the screenplay,

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Steve McQueen called me to his house.

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And, er...he had the flu.

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He said, "I've read this remarkable script."

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And he handed it to me and I said,

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"I saw this script a year and a half ago."

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And...I don't know. That's...that's history.

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-Was McQueen, at one stage, going to play along with you in it?

-Yes.

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-We tried to buy it.

-The two of you?

-Yes.

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And somehow, they found out that Steve and I were interested

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and the agent gave it to a friend of his at 20th Century Fox.

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-And I heard Brando's name canvassed. Was that true?

-Yes. He was...

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-Who was going to play the younger man?

-It didn't make any difference.

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-I was prepared to play either part.

-And how was Red...?

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Was it you who, in effect,

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gave Redford's career that nudge upwards, as it were?

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-That was Joanne's idea.

-Ah! Tell me about it.

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She read the script and she said, "It's marvellous

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"and the only guy that can play it is, is, er...Bob Redford."

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Other people don't remember it that way, but I remember it that way.

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I remember someone once showed me a memo in 20th Century Fox

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when Redford had completed part of it, saying,

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"He is just another Californian blond.

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"Throw a beach board and you would hit 20 of them

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-"on any given day at Malibu." How wrong they were.

-Oh!

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He's... We have a lot of fun together

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because we bounce off each other very well.

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Did that happen straight away? Did you know each other already?

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No. Never met him.

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Er...

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went back and, um...ran some of his films

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and then George Roy Hill and I went up and we had lunch with him.

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But I would've preferred to have played Sundance.

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-Why?

-Oh, I don't know.

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I feel a little more comfortable with that cooled-out kind of quality.

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It's the better part, do you think?

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I suppose it's the easier part, yes.

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Ready?

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No, we'll jump.

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-Like hell we will!

-No, it'll be OK.

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If the water's deep enough, we don't get squished to death.

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-They'll never follow us.

-How do you know?!

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Would you make a jump like that if you didn't have to?

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I have to and I'm not going to.

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Well, we've got to, otherwise we're dead.

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They're just going to have to go back down the same way they come.

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-Just one clear shot, that's all I want.

-Come on.

-Nuh-huh.

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-We've got to!

-Get away from me!

-Why?

-I want to fight them!

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-They'll kill us!

-Maybe.

-You want to die?

-Do you?

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-All right. I'll jump first.

-Nope.

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-Then you jump first!

-No, I said.

-What's the matter with you?!

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I can't swim!

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HE LAUGHS

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Why, you crazy...! The fall will probably kill you!

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Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!

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Is it true you and Redford send each other motorcars from time to time?

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We have been known to play, um...some eccentric practical jokes.

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He sent me a Porsche for my birthday.

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Except it had hit a tree sideways at about 130mph

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and there was no transmission in it

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and it was just left in my driveway with a big bow around it.

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So I had the whole thing compacted.

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And, um...called the real estate agent.

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He was living in a rented house in Westborough.

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And we got through the burglar alarm and left it in his vestibule.

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Took five guys to carry this thing into his house.

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And, of course, he finally won that one

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because he never admitted that anything was in his house.

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He briefed the kids.

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I called up the next day and I asked Jamie, I said,

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"How's it going? Anything new? What's going on?"

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And there was simply no response to it at all.

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And would you like to categorically deny on camera

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that you have a lavatory roll with Redford's face on it -

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a terrible rumour I once heard.

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Yes, I never had the courage to send that to his friends

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-and I was stuck with a thousand rolls of this...

-What does it look...

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-You didn't happen to bring a piece?

-No, it was a very bad...

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It was a very bad likeness to begin with, so...

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-In the centre of this sheet?

-Yes.

-So you still have them?

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I think there's 990 rolls left, yes.

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I think probably some Midwestern University will buy them

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one day for their library.

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I think there could be money in that, yes.

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Well, they certainly will be museum pieces, yes.

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When you are coupled - as you are often coupled in print -

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with James Dean and Marlon Brando,

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do you regard that as a compliment or a piece of really myopia on the

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part of the writer that the three of you are and were very different?

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Er... Funny story.

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When I...er...

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..was asked to do Graziano...

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..I studied with Graziano -

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I mean, studied - we almost lived together for three or four weeks.

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Boxing, going around, seeing what the er...

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south side of Manhattan where he was born,

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the guys that he grew up with, all of that, and I tried very hard

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to put at least my version of Graziano on the screen.

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They accused me of imitating Marlon Brando.

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Subsequently, I don't know, a year later or so, Rocky

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and I were sitting around drinking beer together

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and I mentioned Marlon's name and he said,

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"Oh, that's one of the stories that I forgot to tell you.

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"I kept noticing when I was sparring that there was this kid that

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"was sitting there with a sketch pad, and so forth,

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"and he kept watching me for a year and we'd chat, did this and that.

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"I never knew the kid, never knew what he was doing,

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"he said he was an actor.

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"I thought he was a spear carrier in some Shakespearean production.

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"What do I know?

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"So finally, I didn't see him for a long time and he came back

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"and said, 'I'd like you to come and see this production that I'm doing on Broadway.'

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"And I said, 'Sure - what are you? Musical? What is it?' You know."

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Well, it was A Streetcar Named Desire.

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And what had happened, of course, that Marlon

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and I had both the same basic character that we were dealing with.

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He had taken Rocky and put him up on stage in A Streetcar

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and I had put him up on the screen in Somebody Up There Likes Me.

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Just before we meet Joanne,

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there is something of a paradox in an actor's career

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in that of course he wants to become eminent, he wants

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to become well-known, better choice of parts, better pay, more influence.

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At the same time, it makes life less and less tenable.

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Is there any part of the world you can now go where you're not

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recognised or known?

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Um, it's difficult.

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It's one of the things that I don't really care very much about.

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I'm not very good with photographers who linger out in the streets.

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Well, I'm sorry - they're not photographers.

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They are guys with cameras.

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My daughter was telling me

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about a marvellous photographic book that she wanted to get for me -

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a photographer who documented what happened in Nicaragua.

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-Yes. Susan Meiselas, I think her name is.

-Is that it?

-I've seen it. It's beautiful. Yeah.

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That's a photographer, as compared with those guys with

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their cameras that linger and lurk about and skulk about in the streets.

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I'm not very comfortable with that.

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Do you sign autographs?

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No, I don't sign autographs.

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There's no sense telling you why

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but I'll tell you when I stopped signing them.

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I was standing at a urinal and a guy came through the door with

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a pencil and a piece of paper in his hands and I said, "Never again".

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That is the terminal insult.

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But it's a cleft stick. You can't have one without the other.

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-You can't be an international movie star and be unrecognisable internationally.

-No, no.

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I understand it comes with the territory but...

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..autographs are something else.

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I remember many occasions in the old days

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when Joanne and I were having a romantic dinner

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or we were having dinner with the kids or walking down Fifth Avenue and

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there was some unwritten law that anybody could stop you from doing

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whatever you are doing and you had to put your name on this piece of paper.

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I wasn't around to vote when that rule was made

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and er,

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I think the only obligation that I have to audience is to do the best

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I possibly can to prepare myself,

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to not cheat them on the screen, and er...

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I don't know if anything else is really required.

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There is something of a command in that.

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"Smile! Take off your glasses." "I'm sorry, my pants'll drop off. "

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Um...

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It makes me uncomfortable.

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I think most of us who were watching would defend your right to that degree of privacy.

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-Mr Newman, for the moment, thank you.

-You're welcome.

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Despite all the hits and acclaim, by the mid-1980s,

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Paul Newman had been nominated for an Oscar five times and never won.

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It felt like an oversight.

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Even his wife - the actress Joanne Woodward -

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had won this highest accolade.

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That changed with The Colour Of Money,

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Martin Scorsese's sequel, 25 years on, to The Hustler.

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Here we join Newman talking about the film with Russell Harty

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a few weeks before his winning of that year's Best Actor Oscar.

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Right from the very beginning, there was such a sense of exploration,

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of lack of ego, of a...of a...

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willingness to er, oh,

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I don't know - jump off cliffs

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and when you have that kind of feeling going in,

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it's pretty hard to make mistakes.

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-Did you do all your own shots in the movie?

-Yep.

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-You went into training for that, or you remembered it from The Hustler?

-No.

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I lose my eye pretty quickly and I get it back pretty quickly.

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-Cruise was fantastic. And never had a pool cue in his hand.

-Really?

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And he was as good, if not better, than I was in five weeks.

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Now this nation at the moment is obsessed with that kind of activity.

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Do you watch it? Have you been here long enough to watch?

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HE SNORES

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I was up until 1.30 this morning watching Dennis...

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-Park...no, Dennis Parker?

-Taylor.

-Taylor.

-Dennis Taylor.

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Watching Dennis Taylor win the championship.

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Joanne being the perverse lady that she is,

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had never watched a...a billiard game in her life

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and was keeping the entire hotel awake last night, jumping up and down

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on the coffee table, which I thought was rather tacky but we stayed up.

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It was an extraordinary night.

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In the United States, nine-ball, which is fast and quick

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and loud and noisy, is the game of television.

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Straight pool used to be the game but snooker here is...is tougher,

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the table is bigger, the pockets are less forgiving,

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the strategy is much more critical.

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Do you think you'll get an Oscar for this?

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Er...

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That's not anything that I think very much about.

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The prizes are OK if you win them.

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They are not so good if you don't win them. But it's rather nice...

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Well, I tried to explain this morning. er...

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It's been a long time

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and it's like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years and she finally

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says, "Well, here I am," and you say, "And so...

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"..now what?" So I don't know.

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I guess...I may have been competitive about acting at one point in my life.

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I'm certainly not competitive any more.

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It would be still nice to use it to stop the door open with,

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-wouldn't it?

-Well, it would create some kind of balance in the house.

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Every time I get into an argument with Joanne about

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cooking or how to launder shirts,

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she just shakes her Oscar at me and I'm dead in the water.

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So it would kind of be the great equaliser now after 33 years.

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-Sickening.

-Is there such a thing as pillow talk at the Newmans'?

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Does she say, "I don't like what you did today. Don't ever do it again."

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-Constantly.

-So you never sleep?

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Well, yes but at odd times.

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Through lunch and dinner a lot and...

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And that kind of thing. Er, Scorsese...

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-That rather stopped you, didn't it?

-Yeah, it did.

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I took a big swallow in the middle of that, didn't I?

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Where will you look for the next script?

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Presumably there are piles by the desk's side, or the top of the desk.

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Do you have somebody who reads these and says, "This is yours"?

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Well...

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I have a young fellow who reads them first and has an excellent eye

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and I don't necessarily depend on that.

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I just know it's very dry out there.

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I know I'd like to do at least two films a year

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and now it's getting lucky if I do a film every two years.

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But maybe there isn't the same need and power

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and drive to prove yourself inside you.

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No. There are no good scripts out there.

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Let me give you an example, Redford and I made The Sting 13 years ago.

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George Roy Hill and Redford and I have been looking for a script together for 13 years.

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We've not been able to find one that we felt that we liked

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enough for the three of us to be in it together.

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That's not out of lack of desire. It's simply out of lack of material.

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-How's your memory?

-Terrible and getting worse.

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And what do you do to help yourself? Do you make lists or do you...

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-They say choline is good.

-What is that?

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That's a massage parlour outside of Westport Connecticut. No.

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-You can remember the address?

-It's a vitamin.

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Well, I remember the bad things

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and I have trouble remembering the good things. It's par for the course.

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You sure as hell have a lot of good things to remember, don't you?

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No, but I can listen to them while you tell me.

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Well, you've got a good wife

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and you've got something in your eye which is...

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-No, I was just winking at you.

-Yeah, I thought you probably were.

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And you've got a fairly fulfilled career,

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which in a kind of way allows you to choose

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whatever work you may want to work at, given the right material.

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-I'm very fortunate.

-And you're wealthy.

-Yes.

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And there are those people who say you're a good-looking guy.

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What do they know.

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There was one person in the whole world who didn't know that

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you're an actor, that you got a note or a message from,

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-whose girlfriend introduced him...

-Where did you hear..?

-..to your salad dressing.

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I just heard on a great little grapevine that this guy who

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didn't know you were an actor sent you a note.

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Do you remember that note?

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Yes, as a matter of fact, I have it hanging in my office,

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in the bathroom, as a constant reminder to be modest.

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It said that...

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It was addressed to me

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and it was addressed to the salad dressing company in Connecticut

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and he just said,

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"My girlfriend and I just had this terrific..." - his girlfriend, "GF".

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"My GF and I just had this terrific dinner. We just whipped home

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"and scattered your wonderful spaghetti sauce over some spaghetti

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"and it was just terrific, and she also told me that you did movies.

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"Is any of your stuff on cassettes?

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"Can we get something for us to look at?"

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Well, it does take you down a little bit.

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Those sauces that Newman put his name and face to

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would end up becoming more financially successful

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than even his glittering cinema career.

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They made hundreds of millions of dollars

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and Newman gave every dollar of profits to charities.

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He also did go on to enjoy a second career as a racing car driver.

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And of course, he carried on acting

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in films like the Coen brothers' Hudsucker Proxy

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and Sam Mendes' The Road To Perdition

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which would become his final on-screen film role.

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In 2007, he announced his retirement,

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saying he'd lost confidence in his abilities

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and the following year, Paul Newman died, aged 83.

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On hearing the news, his friend Robert Redford summed up

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the feelings of many, saying,

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"I have lost a real friend."

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"My life, and America, is better for his being in it."

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An examination of the life of actor Paul Newman, using rarely seen interviews from the BBC archives to tell the story of a career that made him one of Hollywood's greatest superstars. Narrated by Sylvia Syms.


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