Paul Newman was seated in the director's chair for a change, watching Joanne Woodward on the small screen of a Movieola in a mid-Manhattan editing room. Woodward was performing a scene from Newman's recently wrapped film version of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," and the director was ever-so-sensitively shaping the rough film footage by trimming one too many exclamatory phrases here, catching a subtle movement there. . . .
"Trust has to be earned, whether it's between a husband and wife, or an actor and the director, and over the years, we have learned a lot about how to get the best out of each other," said Newman, in an unusually personal observation on the mutual trust the famous couple say has been built by their 28-year marriage and by a long--if sporadic--working relationship.
"We'd like to work together from now on . . . we like spending time together," Woodward said.
"The Glass Menagerie" is the first time they have worked together since Newman directed Woodward in the acclaimed 1981 television adaptation of "The Shadow Box." It is only the sixth film Newman has directed since "Rachel, Rachel," which earned Woodward an Oscar nomination in 1968.
In the latest film, which was shot entirely on the sound stages of the Kaufman-Astoria studios here and scheduled for release by Cineplex-Odeon Films late in 1987, Woodward plays Amanda Winfield, the tough but troubled obsessive mother at the core of Williams' play about the uses and abuses of family love.
The project also returns Newman and Woodward to their roots in the New York theater where they met more than 30 years ago during the Broadway run of William Inge's "Picnic." Newman starred in the play; Woodward was an understudy.
"The one sad aspect of this ("The Glass Menagerie") is that Tennessee's not here to see it," Newman said. A 1950 Warner Bros. version starred Gertrude Lawrence and Kirk Douglas, and a 1970s TV movie version starred Katharine Hepburn and Michael Moriarty.
During a break from editing the other day, Newman, relaxed and rumpled in a T-shirt and corduroys, explained why he chose this as one of his rare directorial roles.
"It gave me a chance to work with Joanne outside the context of acting . . . (the couple co-starred in six films during the early part of their careers) . . . it gave me an opportunity to work with actors, and I love working with actors . . . and it presented the challenge of taking a play and redesigning it for the screen."
Two of the previous films directed by Newman originated as stage plays--"The Shadow Box," and "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds," also starring Woodward. However, the current project was virtually lifted intact from the regional productions of the play in Massachusetts in the summer of 1985 and in Connecticut last spring.
Woodward starred in both productions with two of the film's other cast members, Karen Allen and James Naughton. John Malkovich is the only new member of the cast for the film.
"A lot of the allure of directing is getting in on the ground floor of a concept, a dramatic idea that comes into fruition, and working with the community of film makers--screenwriters, actors, and so forth--to develop the piece," Newman said.
With a $3.3-million budget, "The Glass Menagerie" doesn't have to become a blockbuster to be regarded as successful.
"I'll be happy if it plays in 200 theaters for a while," Newman said, adding that everyone involved in the project worked for guild minimums, with percentage shares in whatever profits there may be.
Newman said the film project was Woodward's suggestion.
"When I first saw it (in Massachusetts), I said, 'It's a shame this isn't on film,' and she said, 'Why don't you do it?' I didn't think I had a point of view on the piece, but then when I saw it again, I thought maybe it was enough just putting it on film."
"It was too good not to be preserved," Woodward said, pointing out that it is unlikely that it could have been adapted for the screen without her husband's involvement. "Still, who knows if anybody will come to see it?"
Woodward remains cautiously optimistic, pointing out that James Ivory's heralded "A Room With a View" has found an American audience.
"There are audiences out there who want to see films filled with wonderful words, with a good cast, and a good director," she said.
Woodward, who exudes the earthiness of her native South typical of Tennessee Williams' character, said she was aware that other actors approached Newman, as a director, with certain "wariness," in awe of his stardom.
"By being married to him, this is baggage that I do not bring with me," she said, adding: "I really trust him as a director, and if I think he's wrong, he usually can be convinced, because he trusts me too."
Woodward said she and Newman allowed themselves to be railroaded into not working together more than they have. When they were first married, they appeared together in several films, including "Rally Round the Flag, Boys!," "Paris Blues" and "Winning."
"Then I went off to raise (three) children, and by the time I came back, his stardom was so great, and he was at the height of his sex symbol era, that agents would say, 'It's not romantic enough for you to appear together because you're married.' So, we sort of blew it, and I'm sorry. And this is why we are looking for things to do together now."