Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 161: Favourite Actors #2 - Paul Newman

I have a suspicion that I’m harbouring the idea that everything the late Paul Newman was, is the man I’d like to be: immeasurably talented in his field, altruistic philanthropist, entrepreneur, devoted and happy family man, race car driver, all round guy’s guy, political activist, colleague of Robert Redford and devastatingly good-looking.

I reckon that professionally speaking, it was easy for many to write Paul Newman off as a movie star rather than an actor, but, like Pacino (who I blogged about yesterday) he won an Academy Award and plucked up eight other nominations (not that that’s a definition of professional prowess in his field). And, also like Pacino, he won for a film that was not by any stretch of the imagination, his best outing - The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler that came twenty-five years later).

How come the “esteemed” members of the Academy overlooked him for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice, Road to Perdition, Nobody’s Fool and The Verdict??!!

Sure, the movie star Paul Newman, is very apparent in The Towering Inferno, The Sting and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid but have you seen him in The Hustler or The Verdict?

I’m biased towards The Verdict, it’s my third favourite film on my list of 239 favourites; for me, The Verdict is a confluence of three great cinema talents: director Sidney Lumet, writer David Mamet and actor Paul Charlotte Rampling and James Mason to boot. Newman plays Frank Galvin, a washed-up, down-on-his-luck, alcoholic lawyer in this courtroom drama. Here’s a few zinger lines from the poster:

“Frank Galvin has one last chance at a big case. The doctors want to settle, the Church wants to settle, the lawyers want to settle, and even his own clients are desperate to settle. But Galvin is determined to defy them all. He will try the case.”

Writing that and reading it back to myself, again, I get as drawn-in as the first time I came across this film, which was in the slim volume of Sidney Lumet’s thoughts, ‘Making Movies’. In that book, which I recommend to anyone interested in film, Lumet talks candidly about working with Paul Newman in preparation for the role of Frank Galvin. I lent my copy of this book out, so I don’t have it to hand, but what I recall is this: early on in the rehearsal period that they had for this film, Sidney Lumet took Paul Newman aside and sent him away to think about whether he was up for this role and committed to playing the part in the way that Galvin needed to be played. Please read Sidney Lumet’s book to get the real and correct version of things, rather than rely on my retelling of the story. The results of what Paul Newman went “away” and thought about are there on the screen (dvd now) and, for me, with the exception of The Hustler, it’s Paul Newman’s finest hour or two, maybe not his most popular, not most memorable, but certainly his finest.

All in all, I think that the world tends to recall Paul Newman, with a great deal of affection, and as a good man. I ho9pe he’s remembered as a great actor too.

Day #161 Tip: Go away and think about this.....
In his book ‘Story’, Robert McKee talks about “risk” in relation to the characters in our screenplays and in relation to us, as writers. I’ve written about this here before in these pages, but writing about the seminal collaboration between Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet reminds me, to remind myself, of McKee’s words:

“Life teaches that the measure of the value of any human desire is in direct proportion to the risk involved in its pursuit. The higher the value the higher the risk. We give the ultimate values to those things that demand the ultimate risks - our freedom, our lives, our souls........
....examine your own desires: you wish to write for the cinema; you wish to give us works of beauty and meaning that help shape our vision or reality; in return you would like to be acknowledged.....and you’re willing to risk vital aspects of your life to live that dream: time, money, people.....The writer places time, money and people at risk because his ambition has life-defining force. What’s true for the writer is true for every character he creates.”

Strident and stirring words. I reckon they’re the kind of words that Sidney Lumet imparted to Paul Newman on that first day of rehearsal for The Verdict, and that’s why Newman went “away” and thought about it, only to return and put down on film a performance that I and many others return to again and again and again for inspiration, because watching an actor (or actress) go out on a limb like he does in this film, is to watch someone taking risks....and I bet that’s what Lumet demanded of him same as he demanded it of Al Pacino.

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