Sunday, September 28, 2008

There Was Only One Paul Newman

Paul Newman was one of the last two greats of his generation. Now, only Clint Eastwood remains.

He trained in the method style with Lee Strasberg. In the beginning, he was criticised for being a mini-Marlon Brando. He was a bit younger than Brando, who was the big star. But Newman moved away from that, establishing his own style. In the end, he wasn't a second anybody: He was Paul Newman.

Undoubtedly, he is one of the Top 10 all-time great movie stars. I’m not quite sure where, but he was a great star. But unlike many great stars, though, Newman was a very good actor. He was also extraordinarily good-looking, with eyes a remarkable shade of bright blue, but his looks got in the way of people appreciating his acting ability until much later in his life.

They assumed he was just a pretty boy and didn't take him seriously. Maybe that's why he was nominated for so many Oscars without winning. In fact, he was a damn good actor.

True, in some of his early films he got by on his looks – but not in the ones that counted. If you watch Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), a very good actor is emerging.

The film everyone's going to remember him for is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, because it was one of the great Westerns. But I think his best performances were in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Hustler (1961). The great thing about Newman's acting was that he became the character he was playing. But, at the same time, there were always those Paul Newman qualities.

He appeared on the screen and you warmed to him at once. It didn't matter what kind of part he was playing. Even in Road to Perdition (2002) or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), when he was playing louts, as soon as he appeared on the screen you warmed to him – and that was God-given.

There was something that exuded from him: Personality, charisma, whatever. That is an enormous asset for any actor and precious few of our “stars” today have what Newman brought to every role.

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