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Veteran Newman doing cartoon

Charlotte (Reuters): He's won Oscars, raced cars, been on President Richard Nixon's enemies list, helped found the famed Actor's Studio and established a food company to fund charities. So what is the 81-year-old Paul Newman doing playing a crusty old auto with blue eyes for headlights in the animated film Cars, a cartoon set in the world of race cars.

''I wanted to be the first animated character on screen to demonstrate method acting,'' the trim silver-haired actor said with a playful shrug as he readied for the premiere of the latest film from the lucrative Disney/Pixar partnership, makers of such hits Finding Nemo and Toy Story. The premiere was held last week at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, a centre for NASCAR racing outside Charlotte, and attracted some 30,000 people-more than a few making the trip just to see Newman. The movie, which features a rookie race car driven to succeed and a mysterious old timer, played by Newman, opens in general release on Friday.

Newman said, ''Making an animated film was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I didn't have to go on location for a long period of time. I didn't have to deal with temperamental actors or wait a long time for the lights to be set up. ''I just drove from my New England home to New York City and recorded my dialogue in four days. ... Joanne (Woodward, his wife of 48 years,) thinks I'm coming back as a race car in my next life so she says this is one role that I shouldn't overact!''

At a Cars news conference where he answered questions for an hour and in a private follow-up, Newman touched on a broad range of subjects, including the secret of why his show business marriage has lasted so long. He made it sound simple: ''I never ask my wife about my flaws. Instead I try to get her to ignore them and concentrate on my sense of humour. You don't want any woman to look under the carpet guys because there's lots of flaws underneath. Joanne believes my character in a film we did together, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bridge' comes closest to who I really am. ''I personally don't think there's one character who comes close ... but I learned a long time ago not to disagree on things that I don't have a solid opinion about.'' It's hard to believe Newman lacks an opinion on anything. He marched for civil rights and in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and used his star power to make a reluctant media cover those events.

''Being on President Nixon's enemies list was the highest single honour I've ever received,'' Newman said with a smile and added, '' Who knows who's listening to me now and what government list I'm on?'' Later in an isolated hallway, he gave some advice to aspiring actors: ''Study your craft and know who you are and what's special about you. Find out what everyone does on a film set, ask questions and listen. Make sure you live life, which means don't do things where you court celebrity, and give something positive back to our society.'' As for his credo on how to live life, Newman says, ''It's useless to put on the brakes when you're upside down!'' While that wisdom was odd but funny, his response in private to a report that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon may do a ''Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid'' remake is clear -don't. ''I think we did a good enough job with the first one.

Someone at the press conference asked me about doing a sequel to 'Butch Cassidy.' Doesn't he know we died at the end of the picture? I was waiting for someone to ask if we'd do a prequel so I could tell them to go rent the DVD (''Butch and Sundance:The Early Years) ...'' Newman said he is working with Robert Redford on a project but refused to give details. ''Let's just say we better make the movie soon before Redford gets too old,'' he said, grinning. But if Newman doesn't make another movie again, one gets the impression he won't mind. ''I started my career giving a clinic in bad acting in the film The Silver Chalice and now I'm playing a crusty old man who's an animated automobile. That's a creative arc for you isn't it?''

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