Faye Dunaway's biggest battle: Directing a film on Maria Callas

The Oscar-winning actress has struggled for years to finish her film

Despite several setbacks, Faye Dunaway is as determined to direct her first feature film – a biopic on Maria Callas – as she was to become an actress.

“Well that girl from Florida, was an awfully determined girl,” she says about the mindset needed for the daughter of an army officer and housewife to make it in Hollywood. The 72-year-old has had one of the great acting careers. When recently given a lifetime achievement award at the Locarno Film Festival, Chinatown and Network were played in her honour. A host of other films would have been equally good choices: Bonnie and Clyde, The Thomas Crown Affair, Little Big Man, Three Days of the Condor, or even Mommie Dearest.

But trying to direct a movie is proving far more challenging than becoming the darling of New Hollywood Cinema.

In 1997, Dunaway played diva Maria Callas on stage for a year in Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play Master Class. It was great casting given the similarities between the career and personalities of Callas and Dunaway; they were both seen as perfectionists whose run-ins with directors had them castigated as prima donnas. But Dunaway argues: “That woman changed an art form and not many people can say that. Callas is to opera what Fellini is to cinema.”

The play received great reviews, so it was no surprise that a screenplay adaptation was mooted. Dunaway, who made a short film in 2001, has for some time harboured directing ambitions. Watching Warren Beatty originally inspired her to make the transition behind the camera. “When I was first offered the role, I said that I would play it only if I could buy the rights,” she says. “I finally bought the rights as I wanted to own something and pick the team, and sometimes when you pick the team you can make the wrong decisions.”

The production has been a disaster. Originally a release date was announced for 2010, but has been put back so many times that for some time it was believed that the project had been abandoned. There have been lawsuits, “I learned that I can't do everything myself. I never expected to do everything myself. But I never found a producer who didn't cheat me. The first producer committed fraud in Detroit. Luckily I've always had Fred Roos, who works with Francis Ford Coppola, as my guardian angel. It's obviously a daunting task.”

The latest on the Callas project is that, “about three quarters of the film has been shot, we are going to film the rest of it soon”. As to when it will be ready or the next segment will film, she says: “I won't tell you that. I will know more about that in the autumn.”

Dunaway stars as Callas. Liam Dunaway O'Neill, her adopted son from her second marriage to the British photographer Terry O'Neill, plays a student learning the craft of opera. Dunaway has been married and divorced twice and famously had an affair with a married Marcello Mastroianni in the late 1960s. Financing the project has been one of the many obstacles. “I want to do it my way,” she says. “I'm not going to sell it out to a studio. You have to raise money. You have to get private investors and it takes a long time to get it right. It takes 10 years. People hear Faye Dunaway and think she has a lot of money, but I don't because I've spent a lot. Not tonnes. I spent what I want to spend on this movie and you have to have skin in this game. You have to take risks.”

Her preparation for directing has involved making what she describes as a “sweet short film” – The Yellow Bird, based on the play by Tennessee Williams. She has also been watching films by her favourite directors over and over again. “I've seen David Fincher's Zodiac 21 times, always taking notes.” Similar efforts have been made watching works by Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman. On her own acting career, she says, it's pretty much over.

“The reason I turned to this [directing]... one of the reasons... is that acting just takes chunks out of you and, at a certain point, you know how to do it so why repeat yourself. Jane [Fonda] doesn't feel that way, she was always a phenomenal go-getter, getting roles written for her and everything.” While there are fewer roles for the older actress, she says: “There is always television. Sally Field does that with success. I don't want to play those kind of roles. I am more interested in going deep into the craft of acting and making something significant there.”

Looking back on her career, the Roman Catholic convert says that she had a God-given gift to make the right career choices. “That is where I was lucky. My instinct doesn't fail me. Sharon Stone is brilliant and, somehow, after her breakthrough role she made the wrong choices. She's a good friend of mine. I made the right choices.”

Making good calls is also a problem affecting the young actress she feels is the best talent working today. “The best one out there is Lindsay Lohan,” she insists. In addition, she also likes “the red-haired actress that Al Pacino discovered, Jessica...” She struggles to remember the surname of Jessica Chastain.

Dunaway was no stranger to grabbing the wrong sort of media headlines herself. She famously fell out with Roman Polanski during the making of Chinatown. There was even a rumour that she threw urine in his face. In the past, she has walked out of interviews when asked if this incident was true, arguing, “that doesn't deserve the dignity of a response.”

On her run-in with Polanski she says: “[Polanski] is that way [dictatorial]. He knows what he wants and he is collaborative as well, but he has a manner that is off-putting sometimes. We were still in my time used to kindness and to consideration and all that. Roman in a mad moment couldn't get rid of a hair from my face. It offended me, obviously, but it was way too much made out of it. It was only one hair. But I did enjoy working with him, he's a great director.”

The director she felt most akin with is Elia Kazan, who directed Dunaway in The Arrangement in 1969. “He taught me so much. He said one wonderful thing to me because I was alienated from my emotions for a while. I was worried about crying or showing anyone that I was in pain. He said: 'Your emotions make you strong. You don't know that... you think they make you weak. They don't, they make you strong' – and I never forgot that.”

One thing Dunaway would have liked to have done is more comedy, “I was so mad with the director of Supergirl, Jeannot Szwarc. Every time I tried to do something funny, he wouldn't let me. He said, 'you have to be the straight person'. Also, Stanley Kramer did this with me on Oklahoma Crude. He said, 'George [C Scott] is supposed to be the funny one'. I always wanted to do comedy but it's daunting when you've not done it before.”

As for directing, Faye Dunaway refuses to be discouraged.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week