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Faye Dunaway Accused Roman Polanski of "Incessant Cruelty" on "Chinatown" Set

The actor and director had a war of wills during the making of the classic film.

The 1974 film Chinatown is considered by some to be one of the greatest movies of all time, and it was critically acclaimed when it was released, including receiving 11 Academy Award nominations. (It won one: Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne.) But, the history of the neo-noir film is checkered. Chinatown director Roman Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in a 1977 case involving a 13-year-old girl, after which he fled the U.S. to avoid prison time. He's been accused of abuse by other women, as well, including Chinatown star Faye Dunaway, who claimed that Polanski subjected her to "incessant cruelty" on the set and constantly tried to humiliate her. She also made a connection between the way he treated her, a grown woman, and his interest in young girls. Read on to learn more about what the now-83-year-old actor has said about their clash.

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Dunaway wrote that Polanski harassed her during filming.

Roman Polanski in 1974
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In her 1995 memoir, Looking for Gatsby: My Life, Dunaway wrote about working with Polanski on Chinatown—for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress—including one incident in which he yanked a flyaway hair out of her head between takes.

"I was furious. 'Don't you dare ever do that sort of thing to me again!' I told him. 'Don't even touch me, much less pull a hair out of my head,'" she wrote. But, she added, "It was not the hair, it was the incessant cruelty that I felt, the constant sarcasm, the never-ending need to humiliate me."

She said that she approached a producer in an attempt to change Polanski's behavior. "I always felt Roman was treading on me, that he never accorded me any respect," she continued. "And I deserved respect—I had earned it by that point in my career, and I was due it as a human being." Dunaway also wrote in her book, "Now I think what he did to me throughout the film bordered on sexual harassment."

There's a rumor that she threw her own urine at him.

Faye Dunaway at the premiere party for "The Towering Inferno" in 1974
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

As reported by The Guardian, in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, author Peter Biskind claims that on the Chinatown set, Dunaway threw a cup of her urine at Polanski as revenge for him not giving her a bathroom break. In 2008, a journalist from The Guardian asked her about this. She was outraged at the question and ended the interview.

"I won't respond to that," she said. "That doesn't even deserve the dignity of a response. I don't know the details of that. It is absolutely ridiculous … It is insulting that you would even bring it up!"

In Looking for Gatsby—decades before the Guardian interview—Dunaway explained that she was over being asked about Polanski. "There isn't a single shark of a reporter to this day who doesn't try to make the episode in Chinatown a defining one in my life," she said. "No one talks about my work with [Elia] Kazan, [Sidney] Lumet, [Sydney] Pollack, [Norman] Jewison, [Steve] McQueen, [Jack] Nicholson, [Paddy] Chayefsky, all the great experiences I've had. But my falling out with Roman, I am always asked to explain."

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She said that he preferred the company of "very young girls."

Roman Polanski at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976
Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Also in her book, Dunaway wrote about Polanski's preference for "young girls" and explained that his distaste for her might have been connected to this.

"He always hung out with very young girls," she wrote. "Young girls are not threatening, young girls don't have ideas, they're not independent, and I was all of those. I was a pretty considerable actress by that time, as well, with strong opinions about my work. Those differences set the stage for a clash."

She also described the Rosemary's Baby director as "very much an autocrat, always forcing things." She continued, "It ranged from the physical to the mental. He was very domineering and abrasive and made it clear he wanted to manipulate the performance. That approach has never succeeded with me."

As for Polanski's take on their feud, according to The Independent, he once called Dunaway "a gigantic pain," which contributed to her reputation as difficult to work with.

RELATED: George Clooney Says Director Tried to Physically Fight Him on Set.

Dunaway gave a milder assessment of the director later.

Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski at The Best Party in Paris in 1994
Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images

In a 2013 interview with The Independent, Dunaway said that "too much" was made out of her issues with Polanski.

"[Polanski] is that way [dictatorial]," she said. "He knows what he wants and he is collaborative as well, but he has a manner that is off-putting sometimes. We were still in my time used to kindness and to consideration and all that. Roman in a mad moment couldn't get rid of a hair from my face. It offended me, obviously, but it was way too much made out of it. It was only one hair. But I did enjoy working with him, he's a great director."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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