In 1963 Paul Newman went to the Venice Film Festival for the Italian premiere of Martin Ritt’s Hud, a few months following its U.S. release, and sat down with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci to discuss his life and career. At the time he was 38 and becoming a director was but a dream. Only two years earlier, the rising movie star cemented that status with what would become (and remain) perhaps his most iconic role: “Fast Eddie” Felson in The Hustler. Four years after this interview, he’d be Cool Hand Luke, his other most iconic role.

Fallaci, slightly younger than Newman and already known for her controversial interviews, had made waves in 1956 when the magazine L’Europeo dispatched her to Los Angeles hoping to get a fresh perspective on the Hollywood star system. Her interviews extended beyond movie stars to encompass a diverse array of insiders, from producers and directors to aspiring actors, assistants, and taxi drivers, whom she particularly favored. Even the notoriously cynical Orson Welles, encountering Fallaci at a party, was instantly captivated by her disenchanted and ironical approach. In her book The Seven Sins of Hollywood, Fallaci wrote: “Intelligent and respectable people, in America, are ashamed of Hollywood. More than racism, more than gangsters and even more than the gaffes of their Foreign Ministers. Since they’re ashamed of it, they say that it doesn’t exist, that it’s a state of mind. Sadly, it does exist: it’s a specific place in California.” 

Fallaci recounted conversations with industry insiders who viewed movie stars as mere products of makeup, advertising, and press agencies. She also highlighted the discrepancy between their lavish lifestyles and the disdain with which they were often treated by studios and executives. In The Seven Sins of Hollywood, she noted: “Movie stars are miserable even if overpaid, divine and inaccessible: nobody respects them or their private lives. I’ve heard big producers repeat this sentence multiple times: ‘There are three categories of people: men, women, and actors.’ I’ve also heard: ‘Studios treat them as irresponsible, ungrateful, and stupid children and over time, movie stars convince themselves to be so.’ Almost all of them tried to commit suicide.”

Orson Welles agreed to write an introduction for the book, comparing Fallaci’s allure to Mata Hari’s. He observed: “Both of them were very clever in exploiting the male belief that, in the female sex, intelligence is reserved for the less attractive ones.” Welles further noted that while Mata Hari’s mission was relatively straightforward due to the absence of glamorous figures in the military, Fallaci faced a more challenging task. “But in Hollywood,” he went on, “nothing is more common than a beautiful woman. Oriana Fallaci’s captivating grace not only helped her to operate undercover, but to obtain every information effortlessly, all at no cost. Even more remarkable, she returned from her mission completely unscathed.”

In this wild interview with Paul Newman, translated and published for the first time in English by Lucia Senesi, Fallaci goes back to those themes. Newman demonstrates not only to be well aware of the Hollywood star system but to have a clear intention to resist it. Winning over Fallaci’s initial skepticism, the two remained in touch over the years and Fallaci gifted him her book on Vietnam “with friendship.”

Oriana Fallaci: Do me a favor, Mr. Newman, take off those sunglasses. Between those sunglasses and that beard, you don’t even look like yourself. Why are you going around like that? It seems that you’re ashamed of yourself, of your perfect face. Come on, take them off. Being beautiful is not a crime, you know.

Slowly, listlessly, and with a big sigh of resignation, the movie star takes his sunglasses off, revealing a tortured, severe gaze, along with golden blue eyes. The eyes of the movie star, who has traveled from New York to be at the Venice Film Festival, are beautiful. Beautiful also are his ears, teeth, nose, and hands. As a matter of fact, the star looks absolutely beautiful. And he sits in his hotel apartment with gum in his mouth, aware of his beauty.

Paul Newman: When they tell me: “Please, take off your sunglasses, I wanna see your blue eyes,” I get really mad. When they say, “Oh, you’re so good and those blue eyes…” When you’re beautiful, you feel that people accept you for all the wrong reasons: not because of who you are but because you’re beautiful. Tennessee Williams wrote a lot about this, about the appalling influence that your physical appearance has on others in America. I don’t know about Europe, maybe it’s different, but in America you’re always asked to be beautiful. There’s something antichristian about this pagan adoration of beauty, something horrible and––why not?––something humiliating. You want to be recognized for your work, not because you’re 5’10’’ and have blue eyes. What merit is there in being beautiful? Beauty is something given to you by your mom or God: you don’t have to work for it. The industry has this awful expectation of beauty; it causes so much anxiety.

[Hopelessly, he sighs again.]

Don’t stress out now, you can’t have everything in life. We all have our cross to bear. I see that your cross is heavy but it won’t last. How old are you, Mr. Newman?


Well, then another 10, 15 years at most and it’ll be over: you won’t even think about it anymore. Anyhow, you look good for 38.

I know that my body needs 3,000 calories a day and I don’t give it a single calorie more: 1,000 of food and 2,000 of milk or beer.

If you take the 1,000 to 2,000 and the 2,000 to 4,000, you’ll see that your issue with beauty will be completely solved. But tell me: is it why you always look so diffident and distant? I was observing you last night at the Palazzo del Cinema. You were at the screening of your film, Hud, with the director, Martin Ritt. People were clapping and you, instead of being happy, were looking at your shoes.

The thing is… I don’t really fit among people, applause, and the spotlight. You’ll notice that I never go to festivals: this was the first and it will be the last time. I like to go to the beach, to swim. How can you swim with those people around you and those photographers following you into the water? It’s stressful and embarrassing. You know, when I go to the Chinese Theatre for the premiere of my films, as soon as I get out of the car, people start screaming. When you’re on stage and people clap at you, they’re appreciating your work. But clapping because you’re stepping out from a car is another thing. You see, I’ve always thought that acting isn’t a creative profession but an interpretive one: the creator is the one who writes and not those who interpret. And this unjustifiable glorification for those who interpret is ridiculous at best. On this matter, I think exactly like my wife, Joanne Woodward, who once told me something really brilliant. We were in Israel, filming Exodus, and we used to have lunch at the hotel’s restaurant that has a wall of windows right on the street. Every single time we were eating, a big crowd stopped and people pushed their noses onto the glass. The third day, Joanne said: “You know, Paul, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to the zoo ever again.”

Well, I get it, your life is terrible, absolutely awful. I’m happy that you make at least a lot of money in return. I mean: applause is boring but when it’s paid in millions, that’s a relief.

For the moment I work nine days out of ten for the government: my tax rate is 91% and I pay until the last cent. You can say what you want about Americans, except that they don’t pay taxes. It’s been like this since the war in Korea. But the 9% I earn is enough to live nicely and sometimes I can afford some oddities. Once I wanted to buy a ski rack but it came only with a car, so I bought the car.

That’s comforting, let’s admit it.

[Becoming serious] It’s not comforting; it’s outrageous. Because it’s unjust. Everything that is unjust is outrageous. This is another thing that bothers me about the work of an actor: the excessive salary. It’s not the actor’s fault, sure––we can’t change the capitalist system––but it’s still unjust. There’s such a disproportion in this society between the privileged position of an actor and the inferior position of other categories of workers. Don’t you think?

Sure. Another big problem.

This is not just a problem in capitalist countries. In communist countries, actors also live shamelessly well. They don’t have money but honors. When I read, “The Stalin Award or The Lenin Award goes to such-and-such ballerina,” I say to myself: is that okay? Is it okay to be put on the same level as generals and bishops and to receive royal titles from the Queen of England and to get to meet John Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Queen Elizabeth? But you know what the worst thing is? That for a moment you really think: “Hey, look at you! You really are extraordinary. Finally, you got what you deserve!”

[He shakes his head regretfully and his eyes become melancholic.]

Are you serious, Mr. Newman?

Of course I’m serious. I’m not trying to be funny. I don’t know why when you’re honest people think you’re joking or acting.

Then look: you chose the wrong profession. You might have to change your job.

Why? Do you divorce the woman you love for a fight? Being an actor for me is like being married to a woman I love but with whom I constantly fight. For instance: it’s nice to interpret a story but not in front of an audience. It’s nice to be acting for the camera knowing that you can give five different interpretations of the same character. It’s not nice to walk down the street and hear: “Pss! Pss! That’s Paul Newman.” It’s nice to enter a restaurant and get a table right away. It’s not nice to be looked at with raised eyebrows, like you’re doing.

I’m just really impressed, Mr. Newman, that’s all.

You actually think I’m stupid. I’m beautiful so I’m stupid.

Actually, Orson Welles says that beauty helps intelligence. Beautiful people don’t have any inferiority complex, so they’re more free, more intelligent. A beautiful actor is therefore really smart.

I didn’t even want to be an actor; I never had that calling. I graduated in Drama and Economics and I wanted to teach directing. Being a director is still my dream. Once I filmed a 20-minute short film, 21, from a monologue by Anton Chekhov, at my own expense. Just to have fun, you know, not to screen it. And it didn’t make any sense. I worked on it for four days. Maybe I’m just not creative.

[The movie star smiles. He really is beautiful.]

Oriana Fallaci and Paul Newman

Why are you so hard on yourself now? I’m sure you’re creative.

I’m an interpreter, I told you. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that I became an actor right away? Besides, it happened by chance. I graduated from Kenyon College and I didn’t even take any theatrical classes; instead I played football. I’ve always been sporty. My father had a store selling sporting goods in Cleveland, Ohio. But then one day they found us drinking beer and forbade us from playing again. Since I didn’t know what to do with my time, I started taking acting classes. Chance. Or destiny?

Destiny, absolutely.

Probably. If I think that my first film was The Silver Chalice… the worst film ever made in America. Can you imagine surviving it? Success didn’t come easily… but that’s better. Sudden success is horrible; it ruins people. It’s very hard to separate yourself from the character that the popularity has created, and refusing to separate is immoral. You have to keep studying. I keep studying, you know? I keep going to the Actors Studio and this is what makes my profession honorable.

Nobody doubts that.

Some do, actually. And they doubt the Actors Studio as well. They say that all the acting there is the same, they blame it for everything. Obviously people show up at the Actors Studio and then say they studied there. But those who really study there… can you imagine Julie Harris acting like Geraldine Page? Or my wife like Shelley Winters? Or Karl Malden like Tony Franciosa? Or worse: can you imagine me acting like Marlon Brando? Wait, do you also think that I look like Marlon Brando?

Well… a little bit.

[A rash response. His eyes turn to ice.]

When journalists tell me, “Your acting is just like Brando’s,” or even “You look like Marlon Brando,” I stop talking to them. Nothing is more stupid than saying, “Here’s another Brando, another Clark Gable”; refusing any responsibility for an honest opinion. But if I decide to keep talking to them. I ask, “What’s Marlon Brando’s main quality?” Come on, tell me. [Silence] Then I’m gonna tell you. It’s his ability to burn like a volcano that is about to explode. It’s being Brando and only Brando, which is to say the best actor that we have in the U.S. And to remain Brando. Look, I’m not saying that because he’s my friend. He’s not; he’s a colleague with whom I’ve barely spoken. I don’t have Brando’s ability. I’m not always myself. If I play a cowboy, I’m a cowboy, if I play a surgeon, I’m a surgeon. And if I play a gigolo, I’m a gigolo. When people watch Brando instead, they watch Brando playing the cowboy, the surgeon, the gigolo. As for our physical resemblance: there’s nothing I can do about it. I can just let my beard grow.

Oh, is that why you go around with that beard?

What do you want, exactly? To make fun of me?

No, no. I’m trying to do your portrait.

Which portrait?

You talk and the portrait appears. Actually, it’s a self-portrait.

I don’t want any portrait or self-portrait. They always start with the portrait and then want to take pictures of your kids. Nobody has ever photographed my kids. I don’t allow it.

Who wants to take pictures of your kids? We are in Venice, they’re in New York. What about your family, Mr. Newman? 

My family is a sanctuary that nobody has ever entered. Many people exploit their family to advertise themselves. Not me. I don’t believe in advertising and never did––not even at the beginning when I really needed to. I have no obligation to advertise myself. Only to act as best I can. I don’t care about the rest: like having your handprints at the Chinese Theatre.

Yeah, but your handprints are there. Your hands and feet.

Without my shoes.

I know, you’re a non-conformist.

Who said that? I hate labels. Being non-conformist is as stupid as being conformist. A non-conformist always says no and a conformist always says yes. Neither is very smart. I’m smart and sometimes I say no and sometimes I say yes. I’m non-conformist when I stroll through the traffic of New York with a scooter. I’m conformist when I say that I like women.

That’s not conformism. That’s taste.

And when people ask me if I’m right-wing or left-wing, I say: I’m not a liberal and I’m not a conservative. Sometimes liberals are right and sometimes conservatives are right. I don’t belong to any party. The truth is always in the middle, in politics and elsewhere. The Washington Post wrote the same thing, just the other day.

Well, you still stood with Black people, you went to Alabama with Marlon Brando, you attended the rally in Washington.

So what? An actor doesn’t have the right to have an opinion, to participate in the political life of his country? Being an actor deprives you of citizenship? “You’re only a petty little actor with blue eyes, you don’t even read, what do you think you know about politics? Why get involved?” As if Marlon Brando and I need to look for publicity. You know what reputation we have now? That of agitators. And with what result? That Marlon Brando’s film hasn’t been screened and my film, Hud, won’t last ten days.

You certainly were brave. That was not good for your popularity. People reacted really badly…

I don’t care how they reacted. I don’t care about being popular. An actor’s duty isn’t to be popular but to use his popularity to change things. I hate those who don’t do anything––the silent majority. If laws become oppressive, we don’t have to accept them. Is that brave? I don’t think so. Being different or having enemies isn’t brave; those who have no enemies have no character. I have character even if I have blue eyes, and so I went to Alabama to show Black people that there’s someone who cares for them. And later to Washington. Everything has become big in America: the business, the government, Madison Avenue. It’s very hard for a person to be in charge of their own destiny, to make a difference. But when people come together, there’s a serious possibility to be heard. The New York Times wrote exactly the same thing. It was great to see 210,000 people marching to the Lincoln Memorial, you know? It’s the most important thing that happened in America in the past ten years, believe me. There were all kinds of people and Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Harry Belafonte, Burt Lancaster, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Diahann Carroll, Tony Franciosa came straight from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. Nobody came for publicity.

You really do have a complex, Mr. Newman. Orson Welles says inaccurate things.

[The movie star doesn’t appreciate my remark. He’s offended and the conversation starts going seriously downhill.]

My complex is minding my own business, spending time at home with my wife and kids, my job and never talking about myself.

Your kids…

[Shortly] I have five kids. Two with Joanne and three from my previous marriage.

Your wife…

[Shortly] My wife is a great woman. We met while working on the Broadway production Picnic.

[He impatiently checks his watch.]

You two work together a lot.

Yes, because I can’t cheat with her: I know that she looks at me, she judges me. She knows me and I don’t even try to repeat myself when I work with her or to use the trickeries of an actor. And also because I’d rather hug her than any other woman. I love my wife.

Your house is in Connecticut…

We live in Connecticut or New York. 

[He looks at his watch again.]

Why not in Hollywood?

Because I prefer New York.

Why is that?

I don’t like Hollywood.

I’m sorry that your wife didn’t come to Venice.

We’re redoing the living room.

Or Europe.

We like America. I don’t long for Europe. People belong to the place where they were born.

[He keeps looking at his watch. He really wants to leave.]

I don’t want to take too much of your time, Mr. Newman. You really are a nice person, very kind. I’m sorry you didn’t get any awards here in Venice and…

[I keep saying trivial things.]

I couldn’t care less about awards. Acting isn’t a competition, a horse race you have to win. And anyhow we all know how awards work, at the festivals as well as at the Academy Awards: it’s not really about the actor but the production company or the country. It’s not an honest decision but a political game of convenience. And when the decision isn’t free, what value does the prize have? To me, it’s enough when they say: here is an honest man who’s doing his job honestly.

The movie star puts his sunglasses back on and says goodbye with no emotion. He leaves, chewing his gum. In the hotel’s lobby, everyone turns to look at him but he doesn’t look at anyone and walks into the crowd, leaving behind the smell of incense and popcorn. Is he nice? Is he not? Is he smart? Is he not? Is he performing? Is he not? The truth is always in the middle. The Washington Post wrote the same thing.

Venice, September 1963
Oriana Fallaci, Il divo al chewing-gum, September 15, 1963, «L’Europeo» in Intervista con il Mito,  Rizzoli, Milan 2010
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