From stylish bank robber Bonnie Parker to hard-hitting TV programmer Diana Christensen, Faye Dunaway has played numerous complex, memorable characters over the years.
“These characters mean everything to me. They are living creatures — it’s like they used to come and sit on my windowsill,” the actress explained to the crowd at the Ricardo Montalban theater in Hollywood, where she sat down to discuss her decades-spanning career as a part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.
In the discussion, Dunaway went movie by movie, talking about her experiences on each project and making sure to pay compliments to each of her leading men — including Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, and Kirk Douglas, among others.
Beginning with her first breakout role in Bonnie and Clyde — a part Jane Fonda also auditioned for. The performance garnered her the first of three Oscar nominations, and Dunaway praised co-star Warren Beatty for his tenacity as an actor and producer.
“He fought to the death for this film,” explained Dunaway of the 1967 movie, which was criticized at the time for its onscreen violence. “[Beatty and director Arthur Penn] were determined to show it as it was. You have to hit people in the face with the violence because that was the way it was.”
A few years later, the actress played opposite Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. On set, McQueen approached Dunaway and wanted to discuss the length of her fingernails, which he thought were too long for the role (“I was influenced by Barbra Streisand,” she explained). McQueen eyed the script that sat open on Dunaway’s lap and noticed the intense amount of annotations and footnotes that decorated the pages and decided against giving her any direction about her character.
Later, while Dunaway was filming on location in Spain, Nicholson called her to discuss a part in a project called Chinatown, a role that she later accepted. In filming the neo-noir, there was a scene where Nicholson had to slap Dunaway, but the actress decided that the staged slaps were not selling it. “I finally said, Jack, you are just gonna have to hit me,” said Dunaway, adding that eventually “he really did.”
The actress, now 75, filled the two hour discussion with little snippets about her experiences with the men that dotted her award-winning career.
On Network director Sidney Lumet: “He worked like he was on roller skates. He was a true New York director.”
On Barfly co-star Mickey Rourke: “Nuts but a great guy. He was a lot like [Marlon] Brando.”
On first meeting Three Days of the Condor lead actor Redford: “I was starstruck but you can’t really be afraid of Robert Redford.”
But despite working with many of the most famous directors and actors of the past several decades, Dunaway says the people she remembers best are the ones she spent months cultivating in her own mind — people like Bonnie Parker and Diana Christensen, the role for which she won an Oscar.
“You always carry them around with you,” she said.