Newman, Paul 2

Paul Newman's proud of his ‘Verdict' role

From the Dec. 14, 1982, Deseret News

BOSTON – Though he has been nominated five times, Paul Newman has never won an Oscar. But if you believe Hollywood gossipmongers, he has it sewn up this time.

Since the early press screenings of his latest film, "The Verdict" (which opens Friday at the Plitt Regency), Newman has been the man of the hour. Marilyn Beck touted the film and Newman's performance more than a month ago in her column, Newman's face has adorned the covers of American Film and Time Magazine this past month, and he's granted more general press interviews than usual. But his increased accessibility has nothing to do with Oscar possibilities – he's simply proud of this film.

"It's a great role," Newman explained during roundtable interviews in Boston last month. In the film, Newman plays a boozy Boston attorney on the skids who sees a chance to redeem himself through a difficult medical-malpractice case. "There was no way the actor could protect himself in that part. And that was the fun of it."

So how does he feel about the Academy Awards? "I'm not skeptical of them, I just think it's so hard to weigh apples and oranges. There're too many things that go into creating a performance. That's why I'm not competitive about acting – I'm really non-competitive. There's half of me that says, ‘Whoopee!' And there's another half of me that says I'd like to get it when I'm 83."

Newman said he is just happy to have found such a good film after so long. Aside from "Absence of Malice" last year, it's been several years since he's had a commercial or critical film success. "You can go through a great drought. I used to spend 15 percent of my reading time reading scripts 20 years ago, and now I spend about 85 percent of my reading time reading scripts."

But Newman offers no apologies for the bad scripts he's chosen. He feels that an actor, like any other professional, must work at his craft. "If I only did those scripts I was really crawling the walls to do, I would probably work only once every four years. And I don't think you can maintain a fine tune as an actor if you work once every four years. The instrument has to stay in tune. An actor's got to work. And you do the best that you can with what's out there."

For Newman, it has also meant discovering that the best work is not always the hardest work. He learned a lesson about that with his racing cars through the eyes of his wife, Oscar-winning actress Joanne Woodward. "Joanne has an interesting theory that I was getting a little bit bored. Not just with acting, but generally with the quality of scripts and work. You know what television has done to popular appetites, designing things for the lowest common denominator. She thinks that my hanging it all out in racing has caused it to bleed over into how I feel about acting. Hanging it all out doesn't seem to be as threatening as it used to be.

"I've always been a slow starter. I've never been able to learn anything all that quickly, whether it was racing or skiing or hockey or trombones – or acting. And I just wish I had realized much earlier that it just depends on what you were doing. Like in ‘The Hustler'; to go back and see that is really painful for me, to realize that I really didn't have to work that hard. It was all there. I just emphasized it too much. The intentions were right; it was simply overblown."

Though best known as an actor, Newman has also produced and directed films, and a script he co-wrote himself will be his next directing project. "I'm less whimsical about what I direct than what I act in." As a result he has directed only a handful of movies since 1968 when he debuted with the impressive "Rachel, Rachel," and he won't talk about his new project except to say that it is a father-son story.

With his outside interests, he is becoming something of a Renaissance man for the ‘80s. He is a skilled racecar driver and now has bottled and marketed a salad dressing called "Newman's Own." "I am determined to become the salad kind of New England. I have had more fun with that endeavor than almost anything I can think of in the last 20 years. We've sold 400,000 bottles to date. And very soon we are coming out with ‘Newman's Own Industrial Strength Spaghetti Sauce!' "

Newman is also tired of women begging him to let them see his pale-blue eyes. "There is nothing that is designed to make somebody feel more like a piece of meat than some chick coming up and saying, "Take off your dark glasses 'cause we want to take a look at your baby blues.'

"People wonder why I get offended by that. What do they expect your reaction to be? Am I supposed to look soulfully at them or give them just a peek or a flash? It's such a ridiculous position to be put in. I said to one lady, ‘Sure, I'll take the dark glasses off, if you'll let me inspect your gums."