“The Color of Money” wasn’t a Martin Scorsese project: iI was a Paul Newman project. The acclaimed actor, an enormous fan of “Raging Bull,” wrote the director a fan letter asking to make a picture based on a 1984 novel by Walter Tevis. The resulting film is one of Scorsese’s most uncharacteristic, framing the story as comeback narrative for Newman’s pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson — though it’s arguable they never really show him leaving the game at all.
The final film lets Newman’s star persona bounce off the power of a rising Tom Cruise in an oddly sweet and optimistic package, one that would finally win Paul Newman his first Oscar in 1987 for Best Actor. A few weeks before the ceremony, Newman sat down with “Film 87” host Russell Harty to talk about that elusive trophy, as well as what it’s like to be Paul Newman at the age of 62. Spoiler: It includes being trounced in pool by Tom Cruise.
“It’s been a long time,” said Newman in regards to winning an Academy Award. The actor had been nominated a whopping six times in the category — for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Absence of Malice” and “The Verdict” — so his air of finality about the award in this interview feels earned. “It’s like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years, and then it’s ‘well, here I am.’ And you say, ‘so…now what’?”
Newman was, of course, married to actress Joanne Woodward, who had won her own Oscar three decades earlier for “The Three Faces of Eve.”
“Every time we get into an argument about cooking or laundering shirts, she shakes her Oscar at me and I’m dead in the water,” said Newman. “It would be a great equalizer now after 33 years. Sickening…”
He also touches on why he had taken so few roles in his older age. It wasn’t lack of desire, rather lack of scripts he thought were well-written: “There are no good scripts out there. [Robert] Redford and I made ‘The Sting’ 13 years ago. George Roy Hill, Redford and I have been looking for a script to do together for 13 years. We haven’t been able to find one that we liked enough for the three of us to be in it together.”
You can experience this and more through Newman’s scintillating voice in the full seven-minute interview below. Also, if you’ve never checked out “The Color of Money,” it’s not a bad watch. It may be the best anyone has ever shot playing pool. Yet given the director, that’s a little unsurprising.