Paul Newman: 1925-2008
An excerpt from William Goldman’s 1982 book Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman is writing about a crucial scene in the 1966 film, Harper, in which Newman plays a detective and Robert Wagner has something to hide:
Now it’s time for Wagner’s close-up. The camera is on him, and all Newman has to do is stand out of range with the script in his hands and read his string of insults. The camera rolls, Newman reads, and suddenly, as actors say, Wagner fills the moment —
—on camera, in close up, Robert Wagner starts to cry. This is, let me tell you, a bonus. And it’s genuinely exciting.
And no one is more excited than Newman. In fact, he’s so excited at what’s happening with Wagner that Newman begins fucking up the lines. All he has to do is stand there and read and he can’t get the goddam words out right.
It didn’t matter, thankfully. They got the shot. Wagner was so deep into what he was doing that the crying continued. After the shot was finished, everyone ran to Wagner and milled around, congratulating him; it was that thrilling.
Wagner said a moment like that had never happened to him before. He added one more thing: It was the first time in his experience that a major star had actually stayed around and stood there off camera, reading the lines with him, acting along, as it were. Usually, when the star is done with his shot, it’s off to the dressing room, and the remaining performer gets to act with the script girl reading the star’s lines. Script girls are very important on the set, they work like hell—but they are also noted for a certain woodenness when it comes to reciting dialog. No question that Newman’s presence helped Wagner fill the moment.
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