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AMC’s ‘Backstory’ goes behind scenes

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The premise of American Movie Classic's new series "Backstory" is letting the public in on how movies are made, which is something all those interviewed for the show aren't sure is such a great idea.

"I'd rather keep some of the mystery, because a lot of it seems to be going," said Faye Dunaway. "Maybe it will never go completely, I don't know."

Dunaway, actor Robert Wagner and director Ronald Neame are quick to add that they don't have a problem with "Backstory," which begins a 14-episode run on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with a look at the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde." At 30 minutes, this isn't an exhaustive look at the movie, but it's full of interesting stuff like star/producer Warren Beatty's initial reluctance to cast Dunaway as Bonnie — others considered included Beatty's sister, Shirley MacLaine; Tuesday Weld; Natalie Wood; and Leslie Caron.

Dunaway, Gene Hackman and director Arthur Penn are among those interviewed, but Beatty is nowhere to be seen.

As for that old sense of Hollywood mystery, Wagner fears it's already gone.

"I think there's too much of it, myself," said Wagner, who's interviewed in an upcoming "Backstory" episode about "The Longest Day." "I think that to know about what is going on between the people and the relationships between the directors and the actors — that's interesting. But to expose how we do it — the effects — or take them through post-production . . . I mean, we're in show business. I think it's better to keep that a secret. And I think that if they keep showing how we do it, that takes away from it a great deal."

Dunaway pointed to all the publicity surrounding the current release "The Perfect Storm."

"All that 'Making of' — and now everything is about the storm," she said. "It sort of dissipates the impact of the movie."

"It takes away some of the magic," agreed Neame, who's interviewed in an upcoming episode about "The Poseidon Adventure," which he directed. "And I think that's a pity."

But the director decried more than just giving away how movies are made. He thinks stars have been too forthcoming about themselves and have thus destroyed some of their own mystique.

"I'd like to keep more of the magic of you stars," he said. "I think that the moment you all become the girl or the boy next door, there's a certain mystery that we're losing. I'd like to see more Garbos. I do admire you all, and I think you should be put up there on a pedestal."

GOOD ADVICE: Neame said that early in his career, he got some advice from Sir Alec Guinness about directing that he took to heart.

"He said, 'All so-called normal, ordinary human beings go through a period when they want to act,' " Neame said. "There is a period between the age of about 10 and about 14, and then about 15, they grow up through this adolescence and they become pilots or doctors or dentists or whatever. And the part of them that wanted to act is gone forever.

" 'But,' he said, 'with the actor, the part of his mind that wants to act is permanently and forever no older than 14. So, Ronnie,' he said, 'even though I am far more intelligent than you — and I am — and if I'm more intellectual and better-read than you — and I am — in that part of my mind that is the actor, I am still that young person. And that is how you must treat me.' "

And Guinness had some more specific advice.

"He said, 'The more you encourage me, the better I will be for you,' " Neame said. " 'I need to be patted on the back. I need to be told I'm doing well.' Because it's a very lonely thing, and you need to be helped and coddled a bit.

"But then he added at the end, he said, 'Just sometimes, we have to be spanked.' "

And Neame, for the most part, agreed with that advice.

"Of course, there are many, many exceptions to this," he said. "But, on the other hand, there are some that are a bit like that — Walter Matthau. You know, I loved when we'd do a picture together, but Walter would sometimes behave badly and I would have to say to him, 'Walter, will you behave yourself?'

"And he'd say, 'Yes, sir.' And go on being just the same."


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com