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Revisiting the feud between Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski

When people engage in the “art versus artist” debates and use Roman Polanski as an example, they inevitably cite his 1974 neo-noir masterpiece Chinatown. One of the greatest of its kind, Chinatown was the last project Polanski ever made in America before fleeing from justice and it ended up as one of his most memorable contributions to the world of cinema.

The film starred Jack Nicholson as a private eye who finds himself caught in an incredibly volatile world where a climate of conspiracy, corruption and paranoia dominates the psychosphere. Although the end project was an extremely polished one, the making of Chinatown was a difficult process due to the omnipresent tensions on the set.

One of the central conflicts during the shooting of Chinatown was the raging feud between its star Faye Dunaway and the director. Despite the fact that Dunaway was later infamous as someone very difficult to work with, she was actually terrorised by Polanski and she hit the director back with her own retaliations which he was never able to process.

Polanski claimed that Dunaway displayed “certifiable proof of insanity” when she stormed off the set after Polanski plucked a loose strand of hair straight from her skull which was messing up what he thought was the perfect shot. In their separate accounts, they remembered the entire incident differently as Dunaway insisted she was polite even though she was hurt. However, Polanski stated that she resorted to insults.

The culmination of their battle, however, happened because of a dispute regarding a toilet break. During the filming of a specific scene in a car, Polanski kept demanding re-takes in his own meticulous fashion but Dunaway was desperate to use the bathroom. When Polanski absurdly rejected her request, she allegedly took matters in her own hand and filled a cup with her own urine before throwing it in his face and shouting: “You cunt, that’s piss!”

When she looked back on the entire incident, she criticised Polanski for making it all about plucking the strand of hair from her scalp because that wasn’t what bothered her. According to Dunaway, it was the “incessant cruelty” that got to her and she couldn’t understand why Polanski felt the constant need to humiliate her at every turn.

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