Chinatown

polanski2

Faye Dunaway tries to kill director/Fugitive to the Stars Roman Polanski with her mind on the set of Chinatown (1974)

Polanski vs. Dunaway, Or: It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets a Face Full of Urine

“The actors were used to the American warm bath school of directing, which is to say, a collaborative approach. That was not Polanski’s way. ‘Roman is Napoleon with actors, ‘They do what I tell them to do,” says [Paramount production head Robert] Evans. ‘He’d say, ‘In Poland, I could just go make my fucking movies.’ He was dictatorial & controlling. He gave Jack Nicholson so many line readings that Anthea Sylbert, the costume designer, half expected Nicholson to begin speaking with a Polish accent. But Nicholson & Polanski were good friends and Nicholson was more often than not amused by Polanski’s eccentricities. Dunaway, on the contrary, was decidedly not.

Dunaway was puzzled about her character’s motivation, and by all accounts, got little guidance from Polanski. He would shout, ‘Say the fucking words. Your salary is your motivation.’ Things came to a head two weeks into shooting. According to Polanski, ‘There was one hair that would stick out from her hairdo and catch the light and I was trying to get rid of it, trying to flatten it and it would not stay.’ Polanski walked around behind her and plucked the hair. Dunaway screamed, ‘That motherfucker plucked my hair!’ and stormed off the set. Polanski did the same.
Evans arranged a truce between the director and his leading lady, but it didn’t last long. ‘There was a scene where she gets in the car after seeing her daughter, and Jack is in the car waiting for her and scares the shit out of her,’ recalls John Alonzo, the DP. ‘She kept saying to Roman, ‘Roman, I have to pee. I have to pee.’ ‘No. No. You stay there. You stay there. We shoot, we shoot.’ And then he said, ‘Roll the window down. I got to talk to you. You’re turning too far right. Don’t look at Jack, look ahead.’ Then she threw a coffee-cup full of liquid in Roman’s face. He said, ‘You cunt, that’s piss!’ And she said, ‘Yes, you little putz,’ and rolled the window up. We were all speculating that maybe Jack peed in the cup for her. [Or maybe] she had a small bladder or something.”

-excerpted from Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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