Paul Newman was one of the last two greats of his generation. There is only Clint Eastwood left now, I think. He trained in the method style with Lee Strasberg and in the beginning he was criticised for being a mini Marlon Brando. He was a bit younger than Brando, and Brando was the big star. But he moved away from that, and established his own style. He wasn't a second anybody: he was very much Paul Newman.
He is undoubtedly in the top 10 of all-time great movie stars. Whereabouts I don't know, but he was undoubtedly a great star. Unlike many of the great stars, though, Newman was a very, very good actor. He was also extraordinarily good-looking, with eyes a remarkable shade of bright blue, but his looks got in the way of people appreciating his acting ability until much later in his life.
They assumed he was just a pretty boy and didn't take him seriously. That's perhaps one of the reasons why he was nominated for so many Oscars without winning. In fact, he was a bloody good actor.
It may be true that in some of his early films he got by on his looks, but not in the ones that counted. If you watch Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), you can see there's a very good actor emerging.
I didn't meet him often, but when I did I found him absolutely charming, though more withdrawn than one would have expected. His wife, Joanne Woodward, was much more bubbly than he was. He was hard to interview: he didn't like to give a lot away.
When he was coming up, there wasn't the prurient curiosity in stars' private lives that exists now. I think he was a thoroughly decent man, however. His marriage to Joanne Woodward was, I believe, very happy. He also had these organic foods, and the proceeds all went to charity.
The film everyone's going to remember him for is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, because that was one of the great Westerns. But I think his best performance was in Cool Hand Luke (1967) – that and The Hustler (1961). The great thing about Newman's acting was that he became the character he was playing. But, at the same time, there were always those Paul Newman qualities. He appeared on the screen and you warmed to him at once. It didn't matter what kind of part he was playing. Even in Road to Perdition (2002) or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), when he was playing not very nice guys, as soon as he appeared on the screen you warmed to him – and that was God-given. There was something that exuded from him: personality, charisma, call it what you like. And that is an enormous asset for any movie star.
Barry Norman was speaking to Andrew JohnsonReuse content