Faye Dunaway held up one sweater and then another to her chest.
"This is too punchy and that one's not feminine enough! They're all brown. Everything's brown. I hate them both!"
She stood resolutely in a Beverly Hills Hotel room in a terry-cloth bathrobe, her hair in big white curlers. She glared at the floor-to-ceiling mirror in front of her.
Her hairdresser leaned forward and whispered in her ear, something about relaxation.
"I'll feel fine just as soon as I have something to wear!"
Dunaway yanked a curler from her hair with a fist, dropped it to the carpet, and stared into the mirror again, one loopy curl dangling down on her forehead.
The 49-year-old actress was not playing out a scene in a movie, although she does star in the USA Network thriller "Silhouette" Wednesday, which she also executive produced.
Dunaway was preparing for an interview, and had swept in from her cabana next door to see which sweater coordinated best with the pastel-colored hotel room. Neither of them did, really.
"She's one of the few left who came through the old Hollywood system," her publicist, Allen Burry, said to help explain why the actress was not ready over an hour after her scheduled interview. An Associated Press writer had already given up waiting and left.
"Everything has to be just perfect," Burry said.
After more preparation--a total of four hours requiring a hairdresser, makeup artist and clothing stylist who was not in good favor on that particular afternoon--Dunaway re-emerged in the hotel room, a new woman.
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said, smiling warmly as if the preceding drama never occurred. After a brief photo session, Dunaway kicked off her heels and sat down graciously for an interview, a snapshot of poise and charm.
One of the first subjects that came up was media interviews.
"You have to adjust to the attention, and you never completely adjust to it, you know?" she said. Dunaway was descended upon young, after a sultry performance with Warren Beatty in the then-shocking "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967.
"That was so monumental, becoming famous overnight, and so clamored after. You have to fight like crazy to stay normal behind all that. I mean, I do stay away from the press because it puts a glare on my life that's unnatural."
After an acting career that reads like a film-school textbook--"Little Big Man" (1970), "Chinatown" (1974), "Three Days of the Condor" (1975) and an Academy Award for "Network" (1976)--Dunaway retreated to Britain for most of the 1980s with her husband, photographer Terry O'Neill, and young son.
"I felt I wanted to get away and think about stuff a bit, and try to become perhaps more healthy," she said.
Three years ago, however, a divorce returned her to the United States. "The important thing now is that I'm not clinging to anyone in my life, and no one is clinging to me . . . And I think in terms of that I have achieved a certain liberty."
Dunaway's career resumed full force in 1987 in "Barfly." She and co-star Mickey Rourke won critical praise as two sodden alcoholics. Since then, she has been working hard to establish her name once more in Hollywood, even to the point of relocating to Los Angeles from New York a year ago.
At the moment, Dunaway is promoting "Silhouette," a slick, brooding mystery about a self-sufficient woman who witnesses a brutal murder while stranded in a hick town, and then becomes the target of the killer.
The actress served as the film's executive producer, as she did for last year's TNT drama "Cold Sassy Tree," to supply herself with deserving roles. Dunaway, who has played smart, sexy ladies most her life, is now faced with the Hollywood formula that cuts back a lead actress's roles in direct proportion to her advancing age. Now she's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
"It's unfair, absolutely," she said. "It's frustrating. It's unfair. And it's the way it is. You just have to devote yourself to breaking the system, you know. To fighting the system. It's an unfair system. It's chauvinistic, and it's notional and it's historical--that you want a boy-child instead of a girl-child, which is ridiculous.
"Yeah, I think it's painful, if you get down to the lowest level of it, sure. I mean, why do they do that?" She laughed nervously.
The 1981 Christine Crawford autobiographical film "Mommie Dearest," casting Dunaway as a maniacal and abusive Joan Crawford, is regarded by some as a blemish in an otherwise outstanding career. Dunaway doesn't disagree that her performance in that film was perhaps too convincing.
"I still can't believe that I played Joan Crawford," Dunaway said candidly. "I don't find it a turning point, just a mistake. It was something I wish I hadn't done. I let myself be persuaded into that role. It's the only time in my life that ever happened."
Dunaway recently wrapped two films: playing one of director David Beaird's "Scorchers"--actually a prostitute--in a screen adaptation of his play, and "Three Weeks in Jerusalem," an independent film about a New York Times reporter who goes undercover in Israel.
With other projects in early development at her three-year-old production company, Dunaway plans to destroy the belief that women become less attractive, and less marketable, with age.
"I would really like to change those perceptions," she said. "Hopefully not single-handedly, because it's tough to do anything single-handedly. But I do firmly believe that you can challenge it. You can absolutely challenge it."
"Silhouette" debuts on USA Wednesday at 9 p.m. It repeats Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.