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Classic Feature: Gods Among Us - Paul Newman

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Empire Classic Feature GODS AMONG US #4

NEWMAN
This is a cat so cool he makes Steve McQueen look geeky. Consistently brilliant over five decades, all hail Paul Newman.~ BY SIMON BRAUND ~

This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #184 (October 2004).

A few years ago, Paul Newman received a letter from a fan of his Newman's Own salad dressings. After extolling the vibrant, aromatic tang of his Family Recipe Italian, or the creamy luxuriance of his Parisienne Dijon Lime, the sender signed off by saying that he'd heard Newman had also appeared in a number of moving pictures and wondered whether he might have seen any of them. What makes this so priceless – and it's a chestnut that the man himself has been known to polish from time to time, so quell your scepticism – is that no-one, not even the most condiment-obsessed radicchio freak, could be unaware of Paul Newman's status as the greatest movie star of all time.

  That kind of superlative is traditionally rationalised by a strategically placed "arguably" or a face-saving "among", With Newman, craven caveats are unnecessary. You may beg to differ, of course. But before you do, you might want to wait another 39 years and see where, say, Brad Pitt is by then. Or at least consider this: by 1963, while Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was still having his nappies changed, Mel Gibson was still having his lunch money boosted at a Nowheresville, New York elementary and Clint Eastwood was still a small-screen, small-time cowboy punching the clock on Rawhide, Paul Newman had 19 feature films and three Oscar nominations under his belt. With The Left Handed Gun, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler and Hud in the bag, a full six years before Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid made him a hero and a heartthrob for a new generation, Newman was already a blazing star – lionized for his acting, adored for his beauty, the new Sun King of Hollywood with the face of an angel and the Devil in his pale blue eyes. And unlike Brando, the other golden boy of that brave new world – a greater actor, certainly, but never a greater star – the sheen never left him. Newman, who barged his way into Hollywood while the old gods – Bogart, Gable, Cooper et al. – were still kicking up the dying embers of the glory years, has not merely been a movie star for five decades but has defined for us what it is to be a movie star.  

  In a 2000 piece for *Esquire*, Scott Raab posed the question: "In a debased celebrity culture that rams cow shit down every goose's craw and calls it pate, what does it mean to be a star? If Brad and Leo are icons, what does that make Paul Newman?" Even allowing for the fact that Brad and Leo are conspicuously not icons (they are pinpricks in the firmament where Newman is a supernova), what it does not make him – and even pushing 80 you believe he'd claim your head as a hood ornament for even murmuring it in his vicinity – is an 'elder statesman'. That shit-eating accolade, wreathed with the stench of the funeral home, is reserved for the shrivelled relics who stopped cutting it as leading men 30 years ago and who are wheeled out of retirement now and then to add 'class' to an overwrought family drama by playing Valerie Harper's dad. Newman never suffered the death-knell ignominy of a tacked-on "And" credit after the marquee names have rolled. His is a marquee name and he'll stay above the title where he belongs until that sad little stand of cheap paper flowers goes up over his star on the Walk Of Fame.

Paul Newman
(Clockwise from right) The Hustler; alongside Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; Cool Hand Luke

Newman famously and unshakably puts it all down to luck. There's a picture of him in his early days at the Actors' Studio. In a classroom full of sober suits and ties, he is wearing chinos and a white T-shirt, possibly an undershirt. He has a cigarette cupped prison-style in his hand. Sitting backwards on a fold-up chair, his entire wiry body is coiled rigid, thrust forward in rapt concentration, his jaw clenched agonizingly tight. Anyone born that pretty, you think, must have been blessed by the gods. But if it was dumb luck that the Studio took him in – and it sure as hell wasn't talent, not in those days – that snapshot reveals what he did with the break. It's a study of raw, almost desperate, determination, of I-will-not-fail-because-I-cannot-fail tenacity. Back then Newman was a fuck-up, a failure in the family sporting goods business who'd pissed away his college career and who already had a dying marriage and a kid on his hands. This is his shot, and he's out of options. "He knows that James Dean, six years younger than he is, is out in Hollywood already," writes Raab, staring at the same electrifying picture. "He knows that Brando, one year older – Marlon, the conquering hero, visits the Studio once in a while to hone his chops and pluck some city chicken – has already been anointed a god of stage and screen. He knows that he's not so quick a study, that he has neither their emotional equipment nor their savvy, that he can't gnash and explode like Brando or melt down glistening like Dean. They are astonishing actors, those soft boys." Newman was not a soft boy; he was a drinker, a fighter, a carouser. But in that picture there is something more than a scrappy kid with nowhere else to go, trying not to choke on Brando's dust. There is also desire. And far more than his perfect features and glittering eyes, attributes that he constantly rails against, it was desire – the desire to be a real actor, not a TV soap stiff, to learn the craft, to better himself, to find his creative urge and be proud of the results, to never go back to Ohio and sell baseball gloves in the family store – that made Paul Newman a star. Again, if it was luck that James Dean decided to go for a spin and smear himself over the Pacific Coast Highway, handing the role of Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me to Newman, he took his morbid good fortune and worked it for all he was worth.

  "I never felt like a leading man, never felt it," Newman remarked a few years ago. "You've gotta feel like a leading man in order to be a leading man, and I never had that kind of confidence." He probably never wanted it either. "The typical Newman character is an anomaly," wrote Eric Lax, one of his myriad biographers. "A marginal hero who may get the girl along the way but who almost never ends up keeping her." The word "marginal" is well chosen; a less astute commentator would have gone for "antihero". Newman's signature roles, with the exception of unrepentant shitheel Hud Bannon, have never been antiheros, rather flawed men whose fascination is in their flaws. Look at Chance Wayne, the gigolo (and failed movie star!) of Sweet Bird Of Youth, or the lost boy mistaken for a messiah in Cool Hand Luke, or Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, the strutting, cocksure pool shark bent not on beating his nemesis, the great Minnesota Fats, but on destroying him; who tortures his girl with his self-containment, repulsed by her vulnerability, who is himself tortured for his vanity and who never quite redeems himself even as he walks away from the whole squalid racket. In these roles, and countless others, you can see Newman playing against his most obvious strengths. His easy charm is shifty, untrustworthy, his astonishing good looks are a con man's come-on, his impossibly blue eyes – assets that a less driven actor would have invested with a twinkle, taken to the bank and been happy about it – glint with malevolence. And, still, there is something in Newman beyond his perfect features that makes these characters more than compelling yet less than likeable. You can't love Fast Eddie, but you can't take your eyes off him.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
On the set of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid with Robert Redford and Katherine Ross.

SECRET HISTORY
Paul Newman: Salad Dresser

Anyone who's spent Christmas morning bemoaning their lot of socks and book tokens should cheer themselves with the fact that they never lived next door to Paul Newman. In the late '70s, Newman and his pal A. E. Hotchner descended to his basement – a still-ripe former horse stalls – mixed up some oils and herbs in an old washtub and distributed the results as Christmas gifts. Either too polite to say different or genuinely thrilled with the concoction, the recipients called out for more of the salad dressing. And lo, the ultimate celebrity food brand was born.

The idea of selling the dressing started with the fact that he had a good deal left over and wondered what to do with it. "It occurred to Paul that we could bottle the rest, hustle it into local food stores, make a buck and go fishing," says Hotchner. But initial reaction from food distributors was unenthusiastic, given the rather limited success of such other celebrity-branded products as Richard Simmons' Salad Spray and Frank Sinatra neckties. "Just because they liked you in Butch Cassidy doesn't mean they'll like your salad dressing," he was told. "Maybe we should call it Redford's Own," Newman retorted. "I'd like someone to blame."

People couldn't get enough of Newman's wares, though, and the now-global line has since extended to include such items as popcorn and chocolate. Being the good old boy that he is, Newman has never made a penny from his enterprise, instead donating all the profits to charity – a sum that currently stands at over $150 million. "The embarrassing thing," he says, "is that my salad dressing is out-grossing my movies."
OLLY RICHARDS

It often seems as if Newman damns his looks as a distraction from the work. It's why he would never play the easy game. When fans asked him to take off his sunglasses so they could get a look at his eyes, he would snap: "Is that all you think of me?" It was not, of course. But it's the alliance of indecent handsomeness and his refusal to coast on it – plus, after years of graft, the fact that he moulded himself into a magnificent actor, assured of a place in the pantheon even if he'd had a face like a baboon's ass – that made him such a mesmerizing screen presence and peerlessly durable star.

  Newman's milieu was not the football field, the town picnic or the homecoming dance; it was seedy boxing gyms, murky pool halls and the prison yard. That did not, however, stop Hollywood believing it had a lock on him. He was a sex symbol in spite of himself and the Bitch Goddess wanted a piece of him. Called on time and again to jump through the same old hoops, he rebelled, taking outlandish roles that no-one else (except nutty old Marlon, of course) would've touched with a ten-foot pole – The Outrage, WUSA, Sometimes A Great Notion. "I'm running out of steam," he said in 1968, while directing Rachel, Rachel, his first film. "Wherever I look I find parts reminiscent of Luke or Hud or Fast Eddie. Christ, I played those parts once and parts of them more than once. It's not only dangerous to repeat yourself, it's damn tiresome." The "damn tiresome" quip is pure Newman. In 1976, he made his feelings about showbiz bullshit abundantly clear in Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill And The Indians, a thinly veiled hatchet job on Hollywood delivered nearly two decades before The Player.  

  As Newman eased into middle age, he refused to let up. Yes, there were the Stings and the Towering Infernos – even then, in one he plays a washed-up grifter running a merry-go-round as a front for a cathouse, in the other the callow architect opposite McQueen's heroic fire chief – but for the most part he parlayed the raffish punks of his youth into the kind of rough-grained, conflicted men who, if they did have a heart of gold beating beneath their flinty exteriors, made you work to find it. And even as his looks faded, he refused to fade with them. He did not go gently into the dark night of character parts and cameos that inevitably engulfs the average screen titan as his hair begins to grey and his jowls sag. You're as likely to find Newman playing a crinkly-eyed grandpa doling out the Werthers Originals as you are to find De Niro playing the Easter Bunny. Newman is not a 'survivor', another patronizing kick in the nuts meted out to anyone over the age of 70 with a SAG card and an agent. He has never had a comeback because he has never gone away (although he has only made ten or so films since he finally won his Oscar, for The Color Of Money, in 1987). Even as he has passed through 50-odd years of Hollywood history and seen his box office supremacy usurped by an endless succession of young pretenders, the mantle of superstar has never slipped from his shoulders.  

  "One degree of Newman knits nearly a whole century of cinema," writes Raab. "He has been directed by Hitchcock and Scorsese, acted with Fred Astaire and Tom Cruise, directed Henry Fonda and John Malkovich; for God's sake, this guy lost Oscars to, among others, David Niven and Tom Hanks." And now, old enough to be pondering his exit ("You wonder how much guts you've really got," he told the *LA Times* in 2000. "Until you've faced it, you never really know"), he's alone and untouchable.

Paul Newman
(Clockwise from right) The Color Of Money; as Frank Capua in 1969's Winning; on the set of Road To Perdition with director Sam Mendes.

With Newman it's the whole package, and it's some fucking package at that. The joker, the philanthropist, the rebel. The glorious young buck, the silver-haired tomcat, the crusty cuss who still puts it all down to luck. The brass-balled, beer-swilling old coot who drove the 24 Hours at Daytona aged 75, who married a bona fide broad like Joanne Woodward and stayed married to her (this guy could've banged every starlet and her sister from here to Timbuktu, but he knew a once-in-a-lifetime woman when he saw her), who isn't Fast Eddie and isn't Butch and isn't Hud and isn't Cool Hand Luke and who is all of them and more. That beautiful skinny kid, marooned in a sea of nobodies, willing his immortality into being. The last class act in America. The greatest movie star of all time. And goddammit if the man doesn't make a fine Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette.

Marlon Brando
NEWMAN BY HIS PEERS

"With Paul, I would go in and I'd see 1,000 different movies in his face – images I had seen on that big screen when I was 12 years old. It makes an impression."
~ The Color Of Money director Martin Scorsese

"From now on the world is a different place for me because I'm on film with Paul Newman. The very idea that I would be walking onto a rehearsal stage, much less in front of a camera, with Paul – that's very intimidating! It's funny, because the way I actually greeted him when we first met... I felt like I was 13 years old, seeing Hombre for the first time! Hey, there's Hombre! That's really him! Never mind Fast Eddie Felson and all those other great characters Paul's played."
~ Road To Perdition co-star Tom Hanks

"Paul is very even-tempered and professional. He's a creative actor, always experimenting with new ways of doing scenes. Best of all, he listens well. A lot of actors just don't open up enough to respond if you give them a change in a scene. Paul is not like that at all. He's very attentive."
~ The Verdict co-star Charlotte Rampling

"Paul Newman is the least star-like superstar I've ever worked with. He's an educated man and a trained actor and he never wants more close-ups. What he wants is the best possible script and character he can have."
~ Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid screenwriter William Goldman

"I've had a poster of Cool Hand Luke in my office for the past ten years. He's one of those guys in the business who everybody points to. I've modelled a lot of the things I've done after him."
~ Message In A Bottle co-star Kevin Costner

"Newman is an actor-star in the way Bogart was. His range isn't enormous, he can't do classics, but when a role is right for him, he's peerless."
~ Pauline Kael, The New Yorker film critic

"He loves to cook. He's also one of the easiest people to work with."
~ The Hudsucker Proxy director Joel Coen

"There's a stillness in his acting that is quite magnetic. You can feel his intelligence and you can feel him thinking. He has the depth of a clear pool of water, not rippling or churning or tumbling."
~ Absence Of Malice director Sydney Pollack

"Paul is a lot more alive than most of us. He likes to take chances. He doesn't want his talent or his excitement about life to atrophy."
~ The Sting director George Roy Hill

"What I learnt from Paul is that you can have fun and still get the work done."
~ The Color Of Money co-star Tom Cruise

"I had dinner with him. I'm driving home and I'm thinking: 'God, here's old Paul Newman. He looks great, feels great, has a lot of money, gives to good causes, he's in love with his wife, he races cars when he wants to, makes movies when he wants to, he's incredibly happy and still has the face that looks the way it did when he was 20.' God, by the time I got home, I wanted to shoot myself."
~ The Sting co-star Robert Redford

"Paul's always been one of the best actors we've got, but there was that great stone face and those gorgeous blue eyes and a lot of people assumed he couldn't act. He got relegated to leading-man parts and he wasn't using a quarter of his talents."
~ The Verdict director Sidney Lumet

"He has so many different pieces that he would be very hard to do as an imitation. Anyone could do an imitation of John Wayne; I don't see how anyone could do Paul. He is too complex."
~ The Rack producer Arthur Loew

Marlon Brando
LIFE LESSONS

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO NEWMAN

ON ACTING... "Acting is like letting your pants down. You're exposed."

ON HIS HOMELAND... "America may be violent, greedy and colonialist but my God, it's interesting."

ON CAREER ARCS... "There are three stages in an actor's career. The first is when he shows up on the set and says: 'You should've seen the girl I was with last night. She was amazing!' In the second stage, he's a leading man and he says: 'You know, I found the most wonderful restaurant – you wouldn't believe the fish.' By the third stage, he's a character actor. Now he says: 'Oh, I had the most lovely bowel movement last night.'"

ON BEING SEXY... "If you start thinking that's the single ingredient that makes you successful, it really undermines your sense of your own value."

ON HIS FAVOURITE JOURNEY... "From here to the beer cooler."

ON HIS BLUE EYES... "Nothing is designed to make somebody feel more like a piece of meat than some chick saying, 'Take off your glasses, I want to see your baby blues.' What would she say if I said: 'Gee you really have a great set of tits. Would you mind taking something off?'"

ON NEWMAN'S LAWS... "There are two Newman's Laws. First, it's useless to put on your brakes when you're upside down. Second, just when things look darkest, they go black."

ON AUTOGRAPHS... "I stopped signing autographs when I was standing at a urinal at Sardi's and a guy came up with a pen and paper. I wondered: 'Do I wash first and then shake hands?'"

ON JAPANESE ADS..."To be asked to do a commercial in Japan is considered a great honour, especially if you're a foreigner. To be asked to do a commercial in America is a sign you're on the take or on the skids."

ON HIS OWN TALENT... "I wasn't truly gifted like Marlon. He didn't have to work at it; I never did anything at first shot. Acting was always hard for me."

ON HIS GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT... "Being No. 19 on Nixon's enemy list."

ON SWEARING... "Ever since Slap Shot I've been swearing more. You get a hangover from a character like that. I knew I had a problem when I turned to my daughter one day and said: 'Please pass the fuckin' salt.'"

ON PUBLICITY... "I don't think it's an actor's job to sell a film. If he can't stand to go to 
premieres and get groped by middle-aged ladies, there's no reason for him to go."

ON MARRIAGE... "This is the age of disposability, the age of the throwaway society. The roads are littered with things that people have thrown away: cans, bottles, paper – and wives, children and careers. But in our home in Connecticut, if a toaster breaks we fix it. Same with a marriage when there are strains. We don't throw it away. You see what is wrong and you fix it."

ON HAVING HIS FACE ON SALAD CREAM LABELS... "When the idea came up, I said, 'Are you crazy? Stick my face on the label
 of salad dressing?' And then of course we got the whole idea of exploitation and how circular it is. Why not, really, go to the fullest length, and the silliest length, in exploiting yourself and turn the proceeds back to the community?"

ON MOTOR RACING... "Motor racing for me is a private part of my life. It's like a secret room where I go to relax. At my age to win and have a pulse on the same day is pretty good. The danger is overrated. It's more dangerous crossing the street in New York. At least on the track you know the drivers are not drunk."

ON ADULTERY... "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?"

ON LUCK... "Luck is an art. Luck just marches by any number of people. And they're looking in any direction but where the luck is. I guess I know to look in the right direction."

ON HIS PERSONA... "To think that after Hud and Cool Hand Luke and all the other parts I've dug into, I come off as the guy women would most like to go to bed with – that's frightening."

ON HIS EPITAPH... "If I died today, they might write on my tombstone: 'Here lies Paul Newman, a failure because his eyes turned brown.'"

Marlon Brando
THE 10 GREATEST ROLES

~ BY COLIN KENNEDY ~

10


NOBODY'S FOOL (1994)
Nudging 60, Newman twinkles as the rascally Sully in Robert Benton's underrated comedy. His baby blues have lost none of their sparkle, as Bruce Willis' Carl discovers when he leaves his young wife in Sully's company. The character has spent a lifetime ducking responsibility, yet Newman's Oscar-nominated performance is so agile that past sins sit on him like the indiscretions of a naughty schoolboy. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Showing adolescent awe at the sight of Melanie Griffith's breasts.

9


ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
If this role turns out to be Newman's last major screen outing, then John Rooney is a fitting valediction. His mob boss has enjoyed all the vestiges of command but is powerless to resist fate. Beneath heavy lids, Newman allows the last flames of defiance to flicker across steel-blue eyes, but Rooney knows hell is keeping a place warm for him and even his anger is bourbon-weary. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Confronted in the basement by the man he knows will soon kill him, Rooney's voice trembles slightly before recovering.

8


SLAP SHOT (1977)
Arguably Newman's most concerted assault on his ‘housewives' favourite' image, foul-mouthed ice hockey coach Reggie Dunlop is not simply slick and sliding by on easy charm, but downright sleazy and unscrupulous. Newman gets away with it, of course – wonderfully woebegone when Dunlop is under siege and irresistibly funny when lashing out in four-letter bursts. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Fielding phone calls during his pre-game nap after putting a bounty on a rival coach's head.

7


CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958)
The script may omit some of Tennessee Williams' less ambiguous homosexual references, but Newman's Brick survives the most telling cuts. Beneath that beautiful and inscrutable exterior, self-loathing seethes and unspoken desires fester. Forced to hop around the marital bedroom on crutches, he's like a wounded lion – once supreme, now reduced to a sullen roar. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Swatting away the sexual advances of Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie, as he pours himself another drink.

6


SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956)
Newman's breakthrough as the young Rocky Graziano was originally intended for James Dean before a certain Porsche Spyder ended that promising career. The Actors' Studio graduate prepared fastidiously and mumbled fashionably but his impersonation is impeccable, mangling vowels like a true Italian-American. Playing younger than his 31 years, Newman fizzes with all the unfocused energy of youth. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Rocky pays a flying visit to his father on the eve of the big fight.

5


THE VERDICT (1982)
In all essentials, Sidney Lumet's courtroom drama is a legal potboiler – alcoholic ambulance-chasing lawyer gets one last chance for redemption – but Newman's Frank Galvin doesn't simply buy a new tie and transform into a world-class orator. Playing all the grace notes, Newman allows Frank's demons to linger just as his hands still shake. An oak-aged, full-bodied performance that should have won him the Oscar that went to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Cold-calling the judge to ask for a continuance, helpless Galvin unravels.

4


HUD (1963)
Cattle hand Hud Bannon (or as the original tagline ran: ‘The man with the barbed wire soul') is the logical extension of the loveable rogues and perpetual teenagers Newman so 
often charmed into life – an ambitious, ruthless heel. What makes Hud so car-crash-compelling 
is that we keep waiting for the redeeming Newman-esque qualities to shine through, but he stays bitter to the bitter end. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Arguing with his slowpoke cowpoke dad, Hud presses the case for the cynics: "How many honest people you know?"

3


BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
Another study in delayed adolescence, the quality that Newman has traded upon in the bulk of his most beloved roles. Butch is the older outlaw and should know better, but somehow he's the most flakey, goofing off and unable to take things seriously. Where lesser actors would force the big moments, Newman is nimble, knowing and nuanced – in other words, everything you could want from a star in a film where the plot is king. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: On the mountain, reassuring the Kid that the fall will kill him.

2


COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
After bluffing his way to a poker victory, convict Luke outlines his strategy and his philosophy: "Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand." Working with terse dialogue and an impassive expression, Newman created a brick wall for the more colourful convicts to bounce off. If you actively seek to be cool you will always fall short, but Newman's unfussy, single-minded performance is a perfect example of the old dictum that character is motive. Luke does not indulge in idle boasts: he says things, then he does 'em. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: "I can eat 50 eggs."

1


THE HUSTLER (1961)
That rare iconic role that also doubles as a performance of substance and subtlety, Fast Eddie Felson is instant student-poster-cool when hunched over the pool table, but Newman overplays the cocky mannerisms just enough to let you glimpse the brittle temperament beneath the surface. The actor would revisit Felson a generation later in The Color Of Money to interesting, Oscar-winning effect, but the original Hustler remains the classic portrait of brash youth – willfully naïve yet thrillingly invincible. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: On the point of collapse and begging for another chance after the first epic match with Minnesota Fats.

Marlon Brando
CLASSIC SCENE

THE COLOR OF MONEY
~ Human Moves ~

Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon Classic Scene

SETTING THE SCENE
Twenty-five years after The Hustler, Paul Newman convinced Martin Scorsese to come up with a second story for the character of Fast Eddie Felson. Newman snagged his first Oscar for this, a pitch-perfect portrait of grizzled charm, street smarts and hidden depths. Felson may be a hustler past his prime, but here he proves he's still very much in the game.

INT. RESTAURANT/BAR. NIGHT
Having just demolished (three times in quick succession) Fast Eddie's man on the nine-ball table, Vincent (Tom Cruise) now sits opposite Eddie as his dinner guest, along with his girlfriend and manager Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).

Eddie: Okay, look. If you got a... an area, of excellence; if you're good at something, if you're the best at something – anything – then rich can be arranged... I mean rich can come fairly easy.

Carmen: Really.

Eddie: Yeah. You got some other area of excellence besides this videogame ‘Stacker’?

Vincent: Nine-ball? Right?

Eddie: You're some piece of work.

Vincent: Some piece of work.

Eddie: You're also a natural character.

Vincent: I been tellin’ her that, y'know? I got natural character!

Eddie: No, that's not what I said, kid. I said you are a natural character – you're an incredible flake.

The smile drops from Vincent's face.

Eddie: But that's a gift. See guys spend half their life trying to invent something like that. You walk into a pool room with that ‘go-go-go’, and guys'll be killing each other trying to get to you. You got that. But I'll tell you somethin’, kiddo – you couldn't find big-time if you had a road map. Pool excellence is not about excellent pool, it's about becoming someone.

Vincent: Yeah?

Eddie: Yeah.

Vincent: Like what?

Eddie: A student. You gotta be a student of human moves. See, all
 the greats that I know of, to a man, were students of human moves.

Vincent: Students of human moves?

Eddie: Yeah. That's my area of excellence.

Vincent: Oh yeah?

Eddie: Yeah.

Pause. Vincent looks doubtful.

Eddie: What?

Vincent: What?

Eddie: Okay. That guy at the end of the bar, in the black suit? He's been hustlin’ that broad for half an hour. He's gonna throw in the towel in 30 seconds. For a buck.

Vincent: (laughs) You got it.

In a quick cut, the money's on the table and Eddie's watch is in Vincent's hand.

Vincent: Starting now... Ten seconds.

Carmen: Whaddaya mean, ‘rich could be arranged’?

Eddie: (gently) Shhh.

Vincent: 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28... guess the news, you lose.

The bar guy gives up with the girl.

Eddie: Oh, and I just missed it by a couple of seconds. Wanna up the bet?

Vincent: Yeah.

Eddie: Check for the meal says I leave with her in two minutes.

Vincent: (laughs) Okay, ready, go... Now. I'm counting!

Eddie walks over to the woman at the bar and sits next to her.

Carmen: (laughs) Can you believe this?

CUT TO: BAR AREA

Eddie: I know this is gonna sound crazy, but would you come outside and take a look at my car?

Woman: Your car?

Eddie: Yeah... c'mon.

She links arms with Eddie. They walk towards the exit.

Eddie: Hold it here for a second, would ya?

Eddie walks back over to Vincent, who is holding his head in his hands.

Eddie: Human moves, kid; you study the watch, but I study you. You get the check. 'Scuse me.

Eddie takes back his watch, and places ten dollars on the table.

Eddie: Cab's on me.

This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #184 (October 2004).

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