In his 40-plus years in movies, Warren Beatty has averaged roughly one feature every two years. In an industry that requires constant visibility to retain a certain degree of heat, Beatty’s career has been remarkably resilient.
Some might attribute the airiness of his Hollywood resume to the notion that it takes an inordinate amount of time for Beatty to get his projects off the ground. But he explains that his early success, starring in Elia Kazan’s “Splendor in the Grass” before he was 25, subsequently allowed him “to make movies when I wanted to.” And that freedom of not having to work constantly, he says, “has given me experience that I’ve always been very grateful for.”
Before he was 30, Beatty was producing and starring in his own movies. His first effort in this regard, 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” — another auspicious turn — helped usher in a new era of filmmaking made immortal in Peter Biskind’s book: “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.”
Of the eight films he has produced since, three have been nominated for best picture (“Heaven Can Wait,” “Reds,” “Bugsy”), not including “Bonnie and Clyde,” which might explain Beatty’s selection as this year’s Producers Guild of America Milestone Award honoree. The distinction places him in the company of such pioneers as Walt Disney, Darryl F. Zanuck, Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner — the man who almost succeeded in getting “Bonnie and Clyde” yanked from production.
As PGA awards co-chair Lawrence Gordon puts it, “Warren is a writer, actor, director, producer. He can put on any hat and wear them equally well.” His 14 Oscar nominations spread out over these disciplines is testament to Gordon’s assertion.
Beatty’s been racking up career achievement awards dating back to the Venice Film Fest in 1998, including arguably the Academy’s highest honor, the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award. When asked if all these laurels intimate that he might have entered the twilight of his career, Beatty is sanguine.
“I haven’t lost interest in producing, if that’s what you’re asking,” he says. “If you go back, you’ll find I’ve been working at my own pace since my 20s. But you should add a wife and four kids to the equation. Real life trumps art, particularly when it involves the people you love.”