Paul Newman Talks About Breaking Down Walls
In the movie `Nobody's Fool,' he plays a construction worker who tries to keep emotion at bay
NEW YORK — Paul Newman said no to starring with Mel Gibson in ``Maverick,'' and even turned down his friend of 27 years, Robert Redford, who wanted him for the TV-producer role in ``Quiz Show.'' So, what was so appealing about the film he did accept, ``Nobody's Fool''?
``There's a lot of the character I play in `Nobody's Fool' that is closer to me than any role I've done,'' Mr. Newman said in an interview. ``Sully, an unemployed construction worker, confuses his curmudgeon attitude, his aloofness, and the distance he keeps between himself and his family as independence.
``In his search for privacy, he starts putting up walls, and the unfortunate part of the process is at some point these walls break down. I've been there, and I know what it's like,'' Newman says.
``An actor who's successful develops a certain shield to protect that part of his life which isn't up for public examination. It bleeds over into your private life.''
Director Robert Benton, who wrote the screenplay from the Richard Russo novel, says, ``I had Newman in mind for every line I wrote. I tailored it to him, and I don't know what I'd have done if he'd said no.''
Newman not only agreed to do the movie, but he played a vital role in shaping his character. ``We had a long rehearsal period, and the script was loose enough, you had the opportunity to go easy and let things come at you,'' he says.
``My hope is when people come away from viewing `Nobody's Fool,' they'll have the feeling that change is possible, and often desirable, and frequently unexpected.''
After 40 years in films Newman is still ``experimenting.'' When a talent scout from Warner Bros. Studio saw him on Broadway in ``Picnic,'' in 1953, he was smart enough to sign him. Newman's movie debut in ``The Silver Chalice'' had critics protesting that the young actor was a street-smart Marlon Brando - what was he doing in a Biblical drama with a laurel wreath and toga?
Today, Newman winces when you mention ``Silver Chalice.'' He thought his Hollywood career was over in this first film. Fortunately, he had an ``out'' clause in his contract that let him occasionally return to the stage. The occasion was the play, ``The Desperate Hours.'' Once in New York, he didn't go near Hollywood for two years.
``During that time, [there were] more changes for me,'' Newman says. ``Jimmy Dean was killed right before we were to work together in a television film called `The Battler.' They were going to cancel the show unless I played the part Jimmy was supposed to do. I was uneasy about doing it. Everything had been cast, so I moved over and played the battler. It jump-started my career.''
Director Robert Wise liked what he saw on TV, and he called Newman to star as the prizefighter Rocky Graziano in ``Somebody Up There Likes Me.''
Newman has collected two Oscars, directed and starred with his wife, Joanne Woodward, 10 times, won auto-racing awards, and started Newman's Own foods. He's currently helping to write a Western set in 1867.
The Newmans, married 36 years, live in Westport, Conn. They usually host their family for the holidays. Last Thanksgiving, daughter Nell insisted on cooking the whole meal. Unknown to her dad, it was prepared with completely organic foods. He liked it, and now he sponsors her in Newman Second Generation organic food company. Her initial product was a nearly fat-free pretzel.
Newman's Own, established 12 years ago to produce natural salad dressings, popcorn, spaghetti sauce, and more, donates its profits to charity. So far, they've given $80 million. His Scott Newman Foundation, named after his late son, raises funds for drug programs, while his ``Hole in the Wall Gang'' camp offers recreation for seriously ill children.