Maybe if you played more winners than losers you might not have such anxiety.
Oh, I think I'd have more anxiety playing a winner. I know a really good dirty joke about a winner, by the way.
Oh, come on, let's hear it.
I think it's a good joke. I think good jokes are very profound. If I could ask God for three, four, five, six things I wanted now that I've reached heaven, up on my list would be to meet the writers of certain jokes. Because they have to exist, you know? So this joke, I think, is an essence of power. An essence of the corruption of power. And the most powerful are the winners. We don't think of the gardener as a winner.
A woman gets on the elevator. She's alone, a very attractive woman. Goes up a floor, the door opens and Donald Trump gets on. And she goes like this [wide-eyed] and it's just the two of them. The elevator continues up and reaches the floor and she holds her hand on the button. She says, "I'm sorry, but -- just, if you have one second," and he says, "Yes," and she says, "You are the most attractive, most exciting man I have ever met in my life. You're so imaginative, you're so sexy, you're so handsome, I've got every book you've ever written, your pictures are all over my wall, I've been having fantasies about you, I can't stop them and no matter what man I'm with, if I'm sleeping with him, I'm thinking of you. You are everything. I will never have this chance again. Can I give you a blowjob right now?" And he looks at her and says, "Well, what's in it for me?"
[Laughing] Good joke. That's an important joke. A very good joke. If I could play that kind of winner? That kind of winner interests me. [laughs]
Is it harder to play a really funny character than a sad one?
Yes. Comedy is the most difficult but also the least recognized and the least respected. Chaplin never got an Oscar.
Why is that?
Because people in your own business -- you know, it's a myth. Sometimes actors get awards and they say, "Oh, this means so much to me. Because it was my peers that gave it to me." And, no disrespect, but your peers aren't that much. There are very few of us that really, you know, appreciate good stuff. So, somehow, the majority of people, even in your own art form don't understand. I mean, comedy is the most profound, hits the deepest note, if done right, in a human being. It hits the same place as music. Much more so. There's a joke, I don't know who it came from, so many people have been given credit for it. It goes, He's dying. And someone says to him, "It's tough, isn't it? It's tough, dying." And he says, "Yeah, but comedy's tougher." It's true.
If you could get a prize from someone...
That's a good question.
Someone you really, really...
That's a good question, that's a good question, that's a good question.
Who would it be?
That's a good question. That's a good question. What kind of prize?
What's the biggest prize a man can get?
Well, for your work, of course.
You women know it. Because, unfortunately, what's the first thing a man says after he makes love to you? The first thing he says. "Was I good?"
I've never heard that.
[Laughs] They're not even that sensitive! Well. I know it has happened in my life, but I've gotten it and it wasn't in the form of a statue. I was once on the elevator and a sculpture who I admired, he's since died, George Segal -- I don't know if you know his work. He did the very realistic sculptures of people that almost look like people in a park or whatever. I didn't recognize him because you never know what artists look like, but he recognized me, and I said, "Yes," and like always, you say [mumbling], "Yes, thanks. Thanks very much," and something made me say, "What's your name?" And he said, "George Segal." And I said, "You're not..." And he said, "Yeah." And I thought, My God.
And Brando called me up once and it's that kind of thing. In any art form... when it has reached a place you still want to reach. I still like the question, though. There are some dead people I could start right off with right now. You know, Tolstoy. I'd like him to say, "Hey, you know, you were good in Rain Man." [laughs] That's it. That's all you need. Right? I mean, come on. Sylvia Plath? "Boy, terrific job you did." [laughs]
Thinking back to when you started your career, has your opinion of acting changed? How important is it for you now, being a star?
These are good questions. Look. The truth is, I never expected to be a movie star. I happen to have two friends who also never expected it. Both older, but Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall, we hung out together. If someone were to say to us when we were hanging out for ten years and I was waiting on tables and Duvall was working 12 to 8 in the post office and Hackman was going off and moving furniture on his back. Refrigerators, you know, on sixth floor walkups. I mean, if anyone said, you know, it would have been a big laugh.
And then, it happens. Freak accident. And we still talk about it. I just did a film with Hackman. First time we've worked together. And we still talk about how it's a dream. I mean, you feel like, any moment, you're going to wake up with two tubes connected to you, you've been a coma for fifty years, and they say, "Hi, how do you feel?" And you're still the unemployed actor. "No! No, I'm a star!" "No, you've been in a coma." [laughs]
The other side of that is: It. Fucks. You. Up. Success is corrupting. No way out of it. You can try to reduce it as much as you want, you can hope you have gotten a low dose of the radiation, but it's radioactive. Because it's seductive. It's not what it does to you. It's what it makes you do to yourself.
What's the worst thing it has ever done to you?
I do The Graduate. The Graduate is over. I'd never made $3000 in a year. I've waited on tables for ten, twelve years. I've never made that much money in a year. Suddenly, I have $3000 from The Graduate. $600 a week! I put it in the bank, and it's, like, so much money.
And then I get scripts. And I still have my... my ethics. I keep turning the scripts down and they keep telling me, "Oh, you can get this, you can get that." "No, I don't like the script." And then, Midnight Cowboy comes along and I say, "I like that," and they say, "Oh, you can't do that, it's a supporting part. You're a big star now." "No, I still have my ethics." So I do it.
And then, I meet a girl, a ballerina at the New York City Ballet. And we go together. And we think we're going to get married. And my manager -- I've never had a manager, suddenly, I have a manager -- says, "Do that picture." I say, "No, that's terrible." He says, "That townhouse you want to buy. You can buy that townhouse if you do that picture." Ok.
That's the first time.
You've won four Golden Globes, two Oscars. What keeps you going--
Oh, stop it! [laughs] Oh, stop it, stop it! You're young! Are you seduced by all that vanity?!
Yes, I am.
Is that all there is?!
No, no, calm down. You could relax and say, "I can't spend the rest of my life--"
Spending time with your family, for example.
[Shouting] My family is grown up and all moved out of the house, for God's sake! I've got grandchildren! [laughs]
No, no! Wait'll you hit my age, man! There's only two ways to go! Yes, either you go the way you're saying, or you say, "I'm at the beginning." At the beginning. It's all relative. You have your idols. You have your idols, and they change. I've got my idols: Bu˝uel, who was directing into his 80s. Picasso, who was painting into his 90s. Come on! It's my friend, Sam, who's been masturbating into his 60s. These are people I look up to! You didn't see that one coming, did you? [laughs]
What happens when you hear "Mrs. Robinson" on the radio?
Aw, that's good. That's a good one. It runs right through you. Yeah. It runs right through you. But you know what gets to me more?
I'm telling you, I had no money. No money whatsoever. And they didn't like me because they wanted me to sign a contract when I did The Graduate which promised three pictures with the director, three pictures with the producer, three pictures with the studio, I said, "No, I won't do it." My agent said, "You'll lose the job! Everybody wants this job!" "No, I won't do it."
"Why?" "Because I'm an actor, man, and the best part about being an actor is that nobody tells me what the fuck I have to do. I have my freedom. That's the most powerful thing I have." I was 30 years old.
Best move I ever made. They got so angry with me that they only gave me minimum, which was $600 a week. They wouldn't pay per deum. So I had to pay my own rented car, I had to pay for my own hotel in Los Angeles, I still had to pay for my apartment in New York. I was in the hole when that picture was over. And all I remembered was, in that Camaro, rented, I would drive myself to the studio every day, and I remember the songs on the radio. And that gets me more.
Buh-buh-buh-buh-bah-BAH-buh-buh-buh-buh... [to the tune of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"] "You will be a star!" I will never forget that. Dianne Warwick. Every single day. And the other one, [singing], "Up, up and away! In my beautiful, my beautiful ballooon!" Those were the songs. I heard them every single day. They get me.