GOLETA, Calif. — Kirk Douglas, “Rules Don’t Apply” star Lily Collins and Don Cheadle turned out to salute Warren Beatty at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Kirk Douglas Award celebration of the Hollywood legend Thursday night.
The honor, annually presented at a fundraising dinner for the festival, has previously gone to stars like Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, Forest Whitaker, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Ed Harris and John Travolta.
“I learned more and more each day that Warren pushes you beyond what you knew you were capable of,” Collins said after reading a series of observations she jotted in her diary while shooting Beatty’s latest film. “He challenges and inspires you beyond your wildest dreams.”
The 27-year-old rising star thanked Beatty for encouraging her “to let go, to be present, and enjoy all the details along the way. If you taught me one thing it’s that the stories of our lives are made up of endless rewrites and as long as we’re surrounded by characters we admire, our stories will always be filled with love and inspiration.”
Cheadle, who presented the honor, kept the crowd in stitches while noting Beatty’s towering bona fides: the eight films Beatty has produced have earned 53 nominations, while he remains the only person to be twice nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an actor, writer, director and producer of the same film. “Usually when you wear all of those hats, one of them falls off,” Cheadle said. “But Warren wears them all handsomely.
One of those two films that yielded record Oscar numbers for Beatty was “Reds,” and Cheadle noted the multi-hyphenate could have stopped there and retained all the credibility and mystique of an Orson Welles.
“The balls it must have taken,” Cheadle said. “Imagine the pitch meeting: ‘So listen, I’m thinking of making a three-hour, 20-minute movie set around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s going to be in English, Russian and German. Our main protagonist is a left-wing journalist enamored with communism, so much so that Diane Keaton is going to fall in love with his idealism more than with him, and we’re going to release it wide — two or three thousand screens — in the heart of Ronald Reagan’s rise in popularity. It’s going to take about two-and-a-half million feet of film, a year or two, probably, to edit, and it’s going to cost three times as much as the original ‘Star Wars’ to make. So, you guys in? You want to do it?”
Cheadle, who starred in Beatty’s 1998 political satire “Bulworth,” mentioned that Beatty always has a vision, but he respects the fact that his collaborators have theirs as well. He called Beatty a “master of the unconventional,” and marveled at how each of his films as a director stands as a singular accomplishment in his filmography, never treading the same water.
“In lesser hands, ‘Bulworth’ would have been written off as silly, an old white guy doing hip-hop,” Cheadle said. “But under Beatty’s direction, the big laughs are complemented by sharp social commentary, never forced, or worse, didactic. In lesser hands ‘Dick Tracy’ is just another comic book exploitation, but under Warren’s watchful eye it becomes a dazzling primary-color art piece packed with emotion and action and actual real resonance.”
Cheadle called Beatty “our Ted Williams,” pointing out his staggering “batting average,” and remarked that the legend “has outshined, outwitted and outlasted all of his contemporaries.”
He also drew attention to Beatty’s efforts in the realm of politics. “Warren took a year off from one of the highest points in his career to join the McGovern campaign, which was probably an early indicator that big name Hollywood celebrities actually have no effect in persuading the electorate,” Cheadle quipped.
As a key figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cheadle even feigned bewilderment that Beatty has been in this business nearly 60 years and somehow never made a sequel. “How is that even possible,” he asked. “I’ve done seven of them. When is ‘Shampoo 2’ coming out? ‘Brazilian Blowout.'”
And while Beatty has been called a playboy, Cheadle said, his 25-year marriage to Annette Bening is enviable and a true accomplishment in Hollywood. Beatty, in receiving the honor, remarked about that as well.
“Twenty-five years ago I brilliantly convinced the world’s best actress to marry me,” Beatty said. “I became a devoted husband and father, and I have to say that it has given me the most enthralling years of my life with our four fantastic kids.”
Beatty noted that Douglas, who sent pre-recorded sentiments and will celebrate his 100th birthday on Dec. 9, was an inspiring influence when he first arrived in Hollywood in 1958. “I could see clearly about you the possibilities and the reality of producing and acting in a movie at the same time,” he said.
Ultimately, the evening provided for Beatty the opportunity to look at his life and career through an uncommon prism.
“When you look at movies you made a long time ago, it does give a person a unique view of himself to contemplate,” he said. “But my life remains about movies as an art form, and politics as a life form, and enjoying the access that fame has given me to get to know the people that I wanted to know and the places that I wanted to go — and one of those places is Santa Barbara! Who wouldn’t want to go to Santa Barbara?”