Warren Beatty: ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ deals with American sexual Puritanism
Warren Beatty likes women.
Women like him right back.
The heartthrob of your gran’s generation is still handsome and charming at 79, but don’t mistake Beatty for just another pretty face.
Nominated for 14 Academy Awards over a stellar career, the actor and filmmaker is a living legend in movieland, a pre-Internet superstar whose fame is untouched by time. His game-changing films include Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, Reds and Heaven Can Wait.
Beatty vanished from the scene while his four children with wife Annette Bening were growing up.
Now he’s back with a new movie called Rules Don’t Apply, his first film in 15 years and the first he’s directed since the prescient political satire Bulworth in 1998.
Rules Don’t Apply was also written by Beatty. He stars in the movie with Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich (the new Han Solo). A love letter to old Hollywood, Rules Don’t Apply is set in the ‘50s and features Beatty as Howard Hughes, with Collins and Ehrenreich as small-town kids in tinseltown who fall in love. Both their characters are employed by Hughes, whose eccentric presence casts a long shadow over their lives.
When Beatty visited Toronto to promote his new movie, he was adamant that people understand Rules Don’t Apply is not a Howard Hughes biopic.
“When I first came to Hollywood in 1958 I found myself amused by the stories I heard about Howard Hughes,” says Beatty.
“Everyone spoke highly of him. But I didn’t want to do a biopic, because there was something of it being inevitable that the story would take a downward trajectory.”
Still, Beatty is obviously interested in the fact that Hughes got to hide out and be reclusive; that’s something that contributed to his reputation, says Beatty, just as it did for Greta Garbo.
“That would be impossible today,” he says, “with the technology we have. You can’t hide. You can’t control your image.”
Instead, says Beatty, he decided to do a story about the American sexual repression of that era. In this regard, Rules Don’t Apply is somewhat autobiographical. Beatty grew up in Virginia in an academic family (his sister is actress Shirley MacLaine); they were Southern Baptist.
“The story deals with the consequences of the American sexual Puritanism, you know, the attitude that made us the laughing stock of France and other countries. I was influenced by that Puritanism when I got to Hollywood in the ‘50s. And certain behaviours are good fodder for storytelling,” he says with a smile.
A day before, Beatty announced to an audience at a screening of Rules Don’t Apply that he was almost 20 before he had sex with anyone.
“But I thought of nothing else since I was 10 or 11,” he says, laughing. “If we’re having an intimate conversation.”
Warren Beatty appeared to be having an intimate conversation with America from his very first movie, Splendour in the Grass (1961). The heartbreaking drama about young love thwarted by social expectation co-starred Natalie Wood, with whom Beatty was romantically involved, and it made him a movie star overnight.
That same year, Beatty starred opposite Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. A handful of movies later, he starred with Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a culture-changing movie about the crime spree undertaken by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker during the depression.
The movie dug into the psyche of the characters and altered forever the way sex and violence were represented on-screen. The movie, which won two Oscars (and was nominated for 10), marked Beatty’s first time as a credited producer.
Beatty was the writer on Shampoo — another game-changer — and on Heaven Can Wait, Reds, and Bulworth, among other movies. He has directed five of his own films, including Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy and Bulworth. Reds earned 12 Academy Award nominations, including four for Beatty: Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay. He won for Director.
Heaven Can Wait got nine nominations, with the same four nods for Beatty, making him the only person ever nominated for writing, producing, directing and acting in the same movie — twice.
Orson Welles managed that feat only once, on Citizen Kane.
Beatty’s track record, it should be said, is not perfect. He hasn’t been in a lot of movies, and there were big failures such as Ishtar and Town & Country (his last big screen role) in the mix.
The 12 movies Beatty produced include the gangster love story Bugsy (10 Oscar nominations), the film on which he met his wife, Annette Bening.
They have been a couple for 25 years.
Beatty refers to Bening in conversation as, “The greatest actress working today,” and other terms of affection. “Be sure you see 20th Century Women when it opens here — it’s just great,” he says of her newest film.
He calls Bening the best thing that ever happened to him in his life.
And Beatty is apparently besotted with their four kids.
He and she are the parents of Stephen Ira, 26, Benjamin, 22, Isabel, 19 and Ella, 16. Stephen, who was born Kathlyn, is a transgender male and an activist in that community.
Beatty described him in Vanity Fair as, “A revolutionary, a genius, and my hero, as are all my children.”
He jokes that the kids rule the roost. “They’re like little Eastern European countries, each of them,” he says, smiling. “After days of intense negotiations you’re lucky to get a text.”
What’s obvious is that Beatty has put his family first. “Even when I was making movies, I never made a lot of movies,” he says.
“I’ve always been more interested in this thing called life.”
Rules Don't Apply opens Nov. 23.
Asked which of his own movies he liked best, Warren Beatty replies,
“The ones I had control of.”
Here’s his list:
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) Producer.
SHAMPOO (1975) Writer, Producer, Actor.
HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978) Writer, Director, Producer, Actor.
REDS (1981) Writer, Director, Producer, Actor.
DICK TRACY (1990) Director, Producer, Actor.
BUGSY (1991) Producer.
BULWORTH (1998) Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, Soundtrack.
At the height of his career, Warren Beatty was so well-known as a ladies’ man that it overshadowed most other elements of his work. Author Peter Biskind, who wrote a book about Beatty, guesstimated that the actor and filmmaker had had liaisons with more than 12,000 women, which sounds exhausting — ‘exhausting’ being exactly how more than one of his ex-lovers has described Beatty’s sexual proclivities.
At any rate, he was well known as a lothario, a great seducer, a brilliant swordsman, etc. etc. and according to a Joan Collins’ memoir, Beatty was so busy taking lovers that he became a bit of a joke.
Indeed, some people will be surprised to learn that he has a list of filmmaking honours as long as your arm — like, where would he find the time? — including the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Award, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors, a Milestone Award from the Producers Guild of America and the AFI’s Life Achievement Award, among many other awards.
He has also been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
Now that maturity and a long, successful marriage have opened the door to nostalgia, revision and hagiography, let’s cast one last look back at the Warren Beatty who seduced half of Hollywood’s leading ladies. More than half. Okay, maybe 90%.
Here’s a list of some of the women alleged to have succumbed to that Beatty charm:
Diane von Furstenberg
Mary Tyler Moore