Dunaway’s Return to Stardom : ‘Barfly’ Is Only the Beginning of New Outlook on Career

Faye Dunaway has had her share of stardom, but she is back and ready for more.

“I’ve yearned to be back,” said the Oscar-winning actress with a lift to her dark, sensuous voice as she spoke of being back home in America in the midst of a newly blossoming film career.

The first film to result from her return to this country after a period of living abroad is Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly.” Since its initial screening at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, Dunaway has been hailed by many critics for giving her best performance in years.

Written by poet Charles Bukowski and shot on L.A. locations earlier this year, the film stars Dunaway and Mickey Rourke as two down-and-out alcoholics who become emotionally attached. Dunaway described her character, Wanda, as “a real woman defeated by life” and said it is the first genuine “de-glamorized” role she has played in nearly 20 years, since starring with Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde.”


Dunaway said her latest film marks “the beginning of the major period of my career.” She is booked with film and stage projects well into 1989 and in an attempt to develop her own projects, has formed her own production company.

Her personal life has entered a new phase too. Recently divorced from photographer Terry O’Neill after a 10-year relationship, she now lives alone with the couple’s 7-year-old son, Liam, “the most important thing” in her life.

Dunaway said it was to distance herself from the film industry and from the pressures of working constantly to maintain her movie-star image that she moved to London five years ago with the English-born O’Neill and their young son.

“I felt it was all getting out of hand,” she said between drags on a cigarette during a recent interview in the Central Park West apartment she has maintained here for more than 20 years. “It’s very hard to know who you are and where you’re going when success hits you--bam!--when you’re very young. It’s very easy to get carried away from reality and it takes a great effort to come back. You get offered glamorous, overblown, even monstrous roles that relate more to being a movie star than they do to real-life experience. Each time out the image gets reinforced, and for better or worse you become associated with your roles.”


While Dunaway said she is “proud of the body of work” she created previously, namely such films as “Chinatown” (1974) and “Network” (1976), which earned her an Academy Award, she admits that her portrayal of Joan Crawford in the 1981 film “Mommie, Dearest” helped reinforce her larger-than-life image.

“The (film) industry, having a very short memory, is impressed by the role they see you in at any given moment,” she said. “But in a sense you can’t really blame the industry, because they can only see you in what you’re in.

“The time comes when you have to pull back and retrench. You cannot estimate what comes of being made into a fantasy, and you have to reckon with it.”

Dunaway believes that her performance of an intense, neurotic television program executive in “Network” helped solidify the image she now seeks to change.

“In a funny way, I think ‘Network’ was the downbeat,” said Dunaway. “On the one hand, I won the Oscar, but on the other hand people really started to perceive me as a cold, cut-off person. What I want is to play the kinds of roles that relate to my own experience as a woman--trying to work, to cope with life, to raise a son.

“I can talk about de-glamorizing, but I am larger than life. I’m not hard. I feel passionate, and committed and filled with energy. I’m a woman who wants to do something, not just stand by. I guess this, in addition to a bit of charisma and the grace of God, is what makes a movie star.”

Dunaway can be cool, but repeated sessions with her over many years also have revealed her to be a caring woman concerned not only about her career, but the state of the world as well. She expresses a new-found passion for current issues, such as the nuclear arms race and AIDS, because “these are the things that are killing us.”

She said it was her move to London that helped bring about a new awareness and a “kind of balance” to her life.


“It allowed me to slow down, think more clearly . . . grow up a bit,” she said. Dunaway also worked a lot in London, appearing in films such as “Wicked Lady” and “Supergirl"; TV miniseries and movies, including “Ellis Island” and “Casanova"; and made-for-cable movies such as “The Country Girl.”

“It was easy for me, as an American movie star, to get the kind of work I was doing over there,” said Dunaway. “But my work is very important to me, and I wasn’t getting the opportunity to work on major film projects, to play a wide range of roles, to develop my own projects. I love England, but I felt outside the mainstream there, alienated. The fact is, you really have to be here, not just to get the good jobs but to know your audience and the network of people who form the film community, both in Los Angeles and New York.”

Dunaway recently completed shooting an independently financed film by first-time director Roger Holtzberg, on location in her native Florida. She described the film, which also stars Daniel J. Travanti, as “an intricate mystery” in which she plays a blind woman.

In January, she plans to shoot another European-made film, by writer/director Andrew Birkin, about “a mother-son relationship.”

Next spring, she plans to return to her stage roots and star in a West Coast production of Christopher Hampton’s play “Les Liaisons Dangereuse,” first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles.

Among Dunaway’s future film plans are three projects to be produced under her own production company banner, South Atlantic Film Enterprises Inc. (SAFE), including an original story by Olive A. Burns called “Cold Sassy Tree,” in which, she said, she hopes to co-star with Burt Lancaster.

She also plans to produce and star in a television version of Donald Freed’s strongly anti-nuclear play “Circe and Bravo,” re-creating the role that she performed in London last year of a First Lady held captive by the U.S. Secret Service.

In fact, it was her satisfaction in playing a role of wide emotional range, together with the recognition she received from the Harold Pinter-directed production of Freed’s play, which Dunaway said made her realize that she and her film career had gone astray.


Of this new-found success on the London stage, she said: “It was as though, suddenly, people knew I was working.”

Dunaway said she has returned home “wiser, stronger and less at the mercy of other people” when it comes to keeping her life in balance and her career on track.

“The pressures are always there,” she said of being back in the limelight. “But I have changed. Not completely, but I’ve definitely grown. I still have a long way to go, and I’m still working and trying.

“I’ve been through the star machine, and I’ve survived. . . . “