AN INTERVIEW WITH BARRY NEWMAN (PART 3 OF 3)

Barry Newman is best known as the star of the cult classic VANISHING POINT (1971) and the legal drama THE LAWYER (1970). He was also the lead in the successful spin-off TV series from THE LAWYER - 'Petrocelli' (1974-76). Newman is also an accomplished and respected theater actor and has extensive credits on TV and in film. His other film work includes lead roles in the thrillers FEAR IS THE KEY (1972) and THE SALZBURG CONNECTION (1972), the disaster movie CITY ON FIRE (1979) and the drama AMY (1979), and supporting roles in DAYLIGHT (1996), THE LIMEY (1999), BOWFINGER (1999), and 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS (2002). Newman is one of the most interesting film and TV actors to have emerged since the 70s, boasting an ability to be a magnetic lead actor as well as a captivating supporting actor. Rolling Stone fittingly described him as being ''like producers fused Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen into one actor. " In the third and final part of the interview, I spoke to Newman about his experience of making the Alistair MacLean thriller FEAR IS THE KEY, including the car chase scenes; how he first approaches his characters; sharing scenes with Eddie Murphy in BOWFINGER; whether he regrets not making more comedies; whether he feels THE LIMEY and Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME ... IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) captured the eras they were addressing; working with Daniel Kremer on RAISE YOUR KIDS ON SELTZER (2015),  and making a new film with his LAWYER director Sidney J. Furie. 

Parts one and two of the interview.    
 
Your film FEAR IS THE KEY, like VANISHING POINT, had some amazing car chases. 
Yes, we had Carey Loftin, who was a great stuntman and stunt co-ordinator. On VANISHING POINT, he taught me how to drive.

Do you think you were brought on the film because of VANISHING POINT? 
I don't know, but in the film business, once you get a reputation, that's it. I do know VANISHING POINT was doing fine at that time, so I guess it could've been the reason I was hired, yeah.

What was the experience of making the film like? 
I enjoyed doing that film. I thought the character that I played was a lovely character for the kind of film it was, an Alistair MacLean story.

I watched the movie a lot as a kid and really like it. I think it needs to be rediscovered. 
That would be great!! 

After your experiences with the driving scenes on VANISHING POINT, did you feel a lot easier behind the wheel on FEAR IS THE KEY? 
Yes, but I almost lost the car in one scene. We were on these roads and we were using walkie-talkies on a quarter of a mile run. We were doing one scene and they had forgotten to stop the traffic or something. I was driving pretty fast because I wasn't expecting anything to be on the road, and this car came straight at me. I went off the roadside and almost crashed. I enjoyed doing the driving, although I didn't do the stunts, except for some turn-outs. Like I said, Carey Loftin taught me everything. He was just wonderful.

I saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino and he talked about one of the keys for Robert De Niro developing his character in JACKIE BROWN (1997) was deciding what shoes he would wear. How do you approach the characters you play? 
Actually, I try to think about ''How would this guy sit down in a restaurant and have a meal?'' The moment I started eating in restaurants the way I thought my character would eat, I began to get the physicality of the characters I was going to play – just the chewing and the eating. It worked naturally for me.

I've enjoyed your comedic performances over the years in films like BOWFINGER and certain moments in THE LIMEY. Do you wish you'd done more comedy roles? 
It's interesting you say that because I started off in comedy on Broadway. That's all I really did, was comedy, in things like Nature's Way, and What Makes Sammy Run?, which was musical comedy. It all began when I was very young. My Dad was the manager of the largest nightclub in New England called The Latin Quarter. As a kid, I would always go into the nightclub on a Sunday and watch the new acts. I saw all the top entertainers – people like Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Danny Thomas, and Milton Berle. When I was in college, in the summertime I worked as a waiter in the Berkshire Country Club to help pay my tuition. I worked there for two years and the comics who were on the social staff there would ask me to do sketches with them on Talent Night, and I always enjoyed that. I remember at one point in my career, somebody asked me ''Do you wanna be Steve McQueen or Danny Kaye?'' I never thought of it in those terms!

When you worked on BOWFINGER with Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, was there a lot of ad-libbing? How did you cope with it? 
There was a tremendous amount of ad-libbing on that film. I had three scenes that were completely improvised with Eddie Murphy. I played his agent. They were really funny scenes, but they were cut out of the movie. He was wonderful at improvising. He never stuck to the script at all, which was fine for me.

Going back to THE LIMEY, that film had such a bittersweet vibe about the legacy of the 60s. Do you feel it was authentic in dealing with that era? 
Absolutely. Soderbergh really captured it all … Sunset Boulevard, and the film and music businesses.

Tarantino's recent film ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD is set in 1969, presumably around the time you were filming THE LAWYER. Did you feel it captured that time very well? 
I loved it. Especially the ending! I thought it captured the time very well, but to be honest, I wasn't really part of that whole scene.

You worked with the independent filmmaker Daniel Kremer on RAISE YOUR KIDS ON SELTZER. How did that come about? 
Daniel is a friend of Sid Furie's. He wrote a book about him, and they spend a lot of time together. Daniel came to me and asked me if I would do a little thing for the movie, and I said ''Sure'', and we shot it at my apartment. I'm in the film for about five minutes. I had met Daniel before that and liked him. I knew a little about his work and that he was friendly with Sidney. I think it's amazing that Daniel can do these kinds of films he makes with no money at all. It's wonderful.

How did this new project you're making with Furie come about? 
Sid came to me with this script that he had written and said ''What do you think about doing it?'' I thought it was a beautiful part and a lovely script, so I said ''Of course. Are you kidding?'' I've had to turn down a lot of parts over the last few years because in 2009 or 2010 I got cancer of the vocal cord in of all places. I had radiation and everything, and it took five years to get through it. I didn't want to work at all because I was afraid that if I did work, I would start getting hoarse or something. Then when I started working again, it was the typical grandfather roles, and TV stuff, which were no challenge whatsoever. When Sidney came to me with this wonderful part, I was very happy to do it. It's an interesting film, and we've done it independently because no studio in the world wants to do a movie with a 86-year old director and an 88-year old leading man! They're dying to do a film like that, with the Holocaust as the background!! A love story between 90-year olds!! We've been working on it for three years. We've been through sixteen scripts. We shot it, and Sidney is in editing right now.

Is he as energetic and as passionate as he was when you worked with him on THE LAWYER? 
Very much so. I thought I had good energy, but I've never seen anybody like him. The guy doesn't sleep. He's taking calls at 9am, but he's been up since 3 rewriting. He goes to bed at 11 and gets up at 2 every day. He never gets more than four hours sleep a day. And not only is he writing it and producing it and directing it, but he's the prop man and the set designer! Incredible. He's an Old Master. 

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