From the archive: gazing into Paul Newman’s blue eyes, 1986

Maureen Dowd interviewed Paul Newman, who was starring in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money 25 years after he was in The Hustler – at home in Westport, Connecticut and also at his Fifth Avenue penthouse (‘Return of the Hustler’, 30 November 1986).

It began with a description of not only how guarded he was but how sensitive he was to suggestions that those famous blue eyes were more important than his hard work: ‘If you are meeting Paul Newman for the first time, he will have on his sunglasses. As he gets to know you, he will peek over the rims occasionally. As he gets to trust you, he will let the glasses hang from his left ear. The next time you meet, he will take them off.’

In The Color of Money, Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson, the cocky pool shark in The Hustler (1961). This time around he was the Machiavellian manager of Tom Cruise’s Vince Lauria, a hotshot in Felson’s mould. Dowd saw Newman’s renewed vigour for acting – when it looked as if he might pack it all in – reflected in the new film’s plot: ‘Fast Eddie sees Vince’s pure love of pool, and after years of thinking of the game as merely a hustle, suddenly falls back in love with the game himself.’

Dowd argued that though Newman was ‘a champion racing driver, the founder of a successful food business, a political activist and a philanthropist’, he remained curiously elusive, existing in the public mind as ‘bits and pieces of his characters – Butch Cassidy’s charm, Ben Quick’s machismo, Cool Hand Luke’s defiance, Harper’s irony, Hud’s disdain’.

Dowd reckoned that Newman had finally become ‘liberated from the burden of his sex-symbol image’. But he really didn’t want to talk about his own accomplishments. ‘There’s something very corrupting about being an actor,’ he said. ‘It places a terrible premium on appearance.’ Time to put those shades back on.