NEW YORK – One critic called Robert Evans "shellacked in sin," but beneath a veneer of pure Hollywood beats a heart that has given much more than it has taken.
Evans, an actor, producer and bon vivant may have been in the right place at the right time — Paramount Pictures in the late '60s and early '70s — but he wouldn't have survived if he couldn't really produce.
His hit list includes the first two Godfather films, Love Story, Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown. He survived scandal around The Cotton Club, a cocaine bust, a stroke and near bankruptcy. Sounds like a movie, right? It didn't to him, at first. What began as a book and then a Hollywood collectible book-on-tape is now a very unconventional documentary called The Kid Stays in the Picture.
McCuddy: How do people respond to you now?
Evans: It's not an 'actor' response, it's more like a 'guru' response. (At a recent party) I was mobbed so that I couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to pass out.
McCuddy: Really? How you dealing with this new fame?
Evans: I love it for a reason, and this isn't ego. I hope it instills people to see the picture because it's about 'staying in the picture.' And you know something? It's tough for you, it's tough for me, it's tough for them.
McCuddy: But you used to create the people that got mobbed — standing just to the side.
Evans: Now it's different. By the way, in 1958 I was voted the most promising young actor in the business. Next to Elvis Presley, I was getting more fan mail than anyone at 20th (Century Fox). That faded away. That goes quick. Royalty fades, infamy stays.
McCuddy: So this movie (The Kid Stays in the Picture) is the leading man role you didn't have the first time around?
Evans: No, no. One of the deals of this being made was that I would never be seen.
McCuddy: Yeah, why did you want that?
Evans: I didn't want to be seen. The metamorphosis from the beginning to the end. I had such fights with the director who is a brilliant guy.
McCuddy: As a filmmaker did you think it was brilliant that instead of showing you they turned your house into a metaphor for your life?
Evans: (Laughs) I wish I'd thought of it. What they did, I could never do. But that's being 'objective' rather than 'subjective.' I looked at my life as a horror and they saw it as such an extraordinary story to tell. I had had a stroke. I couldn't move. I couldn't do a lot of the things I wanted to do. And I was paralyzed. Half my body was paralyzed. Was I depressed? Worse than that.
McCuddy: C'mon Evans, say (Evans voice) 'You bet I was.'
Evans: (Smiles) You're damn right I was. You bet your ass I was.
McCuddy: I must confess I was addicted to the audiotapes of Kid.
Evans: You know something? Them tapes have done more for the young people and that's all they can talk about. Everyone asking, 'How did this happen?' 'How did that happen?' I was shocked.
McCuddy: It's a compelling story. People like it. You're a storyteller, you know that.
Evans: Yeah, but let me tell you this, it's a lot more interesting to read or see it than live it. To live it is a bitch.
McCuddy: (Laughing) Would you have 'greenlit' this picture if the star wouldn't be in it?
Evans: (Laughs) Never! Because I wouldn't know how to make it. How do you take an 'audio' and the guy won't even be in it? Impossible.
McCuddy: (Laughing) It's called The Kid Stays in the Picture and the kid won't be in the picture.
Evans: Won't be in the picture! I wouldn't allow myself to be seen in the film! Eventually I acquiesced to only do that one shot at the end in the darkness.
McCuddy: Did Warren Beatty light that by the way?
Evans: (Laughs) No. He loved it though. He called it Citizen Kane. And by the way, several magazine critics have called it the E! version of Citizen Kane.
McCuddy: Citizen Kid.
Evans: And I didn't see it as that.
McCuddy: Nicholson seen it?
Evans: Warren and Jack saw it at the same time. And by the way, neither of them — and they're good friends — have ever complimented me on anything I've ever done. (When the movie ended) Warren made sure he got to me before Jack. So he locked the door, threw his arms around me and he had a tear in his eye. I'd never seen a tear in Warren's eye ever. And he said, 'What can I tell you? This is great.' And he took my head and he kissed me on the lips. He said, 'I can't believe you did that.' To get this from Warren, I've known Warren since 1958 and he's never given me one compliment. Never one! Jack comes in, tears in his eyes, he's crying and says, 'I don't know how you did it, but you made actors look good.'
McCuddy: (Laughing) In a way he's the hero of the movie because he saves the house by buying it back for you.
Evans: It's all true, and in everything ... So many things he's done for me. But what isn't in the film — one of the fights I had — I show where I found him and put him in his first big picture. It was in On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever).
Evans: He was an extra in the screen test, but I saw his smile and I said 'I want to meet the guy with the smile!'
McCuddy: That's in the book.
Evans: Yes, it's in the book and I wanted that in the film and Jack would have liked that in the film.
McCuddy: What's right with Hollywood today and what's wrong?
Evans: What's right is that 30 years ago the American film was 30 percent of the world market. Today it's 70 percent. Do you know the American film is the only product that is manufactured in the United States of America that is number one in every country in the world except for Coca-Cola and that's bottled foreign.
McCuddy: Are they screwing it up these days with sequels of sequels and ...
Evans: It's a system. Everything is committee-ized. I worked with five guys and we made 25 films a year. Now there are 125 people working there and they make 10 pictures a year. Something is wrong somewhere, I don't know.
McCuddy: Who's the most overrated male lover in Hollywood based on what women tell you?
Evans: I won't answer that one. (Laughs) The answer to that is, 'Don't ask. You don't want to know.' (Laughs, and then pulls me close, whispering) When more than two people know something, it ain't a secret any longer.
And neither are you, Mr. Evans. The Kid Stays in the Picture opens in New York and Los Angeles July 26. Other cities thereafter.