When she first saw herself in the early dailies of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, she couldn’t look at the screen.
“Just to see the face, to see that it’s too round – but it was more than that,” she says. “I didn’t think my face was beautiful. I guess I found a lot wrong with it.”
And what about her remarkable cheekbones?
“Well, the cheekbones were okay,” she admits.
The complicated star opens up in PEOPLE’s new issue about her successes and struggles in Hollywood, the movies that made cinematic history, her most memorable onscreen love interests – Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Steve McQueen – and the real problem with Mommie Dearest, a film she rarely speaks of.
At 75, Dunaway is both appreciative and ambivalent about the superstardom she experienced in the ’60s and ’70s.
“When I was discovered, everything happened like dominos,” she says. “I don’t know how to talk about it now because it’s too mindblowing. It’s so unreal and yet it’s real. I’m grateful for it but I guess part of that is missing it – when one grows older.”
“The whole thing is a great experience, but it has its pain as well,” she admits. “There’s a lot of manipulation that goes on, a lot of fear. ‘Will I make it?’ But in the end, you realize it was a very good life.”
For much more on Faye Dunaway, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now
Celebrated for playing cool, calculating and glamorous women from the gun-toting Bonnie to Vicki Anderson in The Thomas Crown Affair to Kathy Hale in Three Days of the Condor, the actress always tried to show their human sides as well.
“I think people misunderstood,” she says. “They may have come away with thinking they were strong, but they were tender and vulnerable too.”
The same could be said for the star herself. The biggest misperception?
“That I’m strong and perhaps like at least one of the characters I played,” she says.
That would be Joan Crawford, whom Dunaway played in the 1981 film Mommie Dearest, based on Christina Crawford’s tell-all book about her imperious Hollywood mother.
At the time, the actress said she hoped the film and the character would be a “window into a tortured soul, but it was made into camp.”
“I think it turned my career in a direction where people would irretrievably have the wrong impression of me – and that’s an awful hard thing to beat,” she says. “I should have known better, but sometimes you’re vulnerable and you don’t realize what you’re getting into. It’s unfortunate they felt they had to make that kind of movie. But you can’t be ashamed of the work you’ve done. You make a decision, and then you have to live with the consequence.”
Dunaway hasn’t given up on acting. She is currently developing two shows for TV and lives in Los Angeles near her son Liam, 36, with her second husband, photographer Terry O’Neill, whom she divorced in 1987.
The star, who had previously been married to J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf from 1974 to 1979, is currently single – but open to dating again.
“I’m very much a loner,” she says. “I’d like to have a partner in my life and I would if I could find the right person, I think, but I don’t know who that might be right now.”
As for growing older, she says “It is what it is. It’s not something to moan or complain about. I still have a lot of creativity and emotion and it almost gets deeper as you get older – the more you understand and absorb.”
Besides, she adds briskly, “It’s not age that makes a life. It’s what you do with it.”