Faye Dunaway: Through The Eyes Of Faye Dunaway

No one knows Hollywood like Faye Dunaway, who's starred in everything from the classics Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown to Gia and the upcoming The Rules of Attraction. Here's her take on a town that, according to her, isn't what it used to be.

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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.

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