Director Curtis Hanson, then a photographer and journalist, snapped photos of Faye Dunaway on the set of “The Happening” (1967). Hanson later received a call from Beatty and director Arthur Penn following Dunaway’s audition for “Bonnie and Clyde” asking for the photos, which helped her land the part.
Pretty-boy producer: “It was unusual to see a leading actor wear the hat of producer. More than that, Warren was known as a pretty boy, and the suits of Hollywood had no notion of what he was doing. Warren was unbelievable and intelligent. You can’t meet Warren without feeling his magnetism.”
Beatty’s method: “He works on the set like any good actor. He isn’t one to retreat to his trailer; that’s a notion that people have about Method actors. We were perfectionists and did a lot of takes.”
Blood, guts and “Bonnie”: “The violence wasn’t there in the script. ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ wasn’t any more violent than the history it came from. The violence was poetically handled; it wasn’t staged.”
On landing “Bonnie”: “Arthur Penn wanted me for the part, but Warren was less sure, since there were a lot of actresses like Natalie Wood who were up for the role. Arthur laid it on the line and really stood behind my casting, and I’ve been grateful to him ever since.”
Beatty called on the services of comedic actor Charles Grodin twice, first for 1978’s “Heaven Can Wait,” then again for 1987’s “Ishtar.”
Blown over by Beatty: “I first saw Warren in 1958. We were both auditioning for a live hour show that was done at the Armstrong Circle Theater. I’m sitting in the waiting room, and there are a number of us in our early 20s all competing against each other. I look over at Warren and say to myself, ‘That’s the single best-looking human being, man or woman, I’ve ever seen in my life. I think I’m getting out of the business right now.’ If I was a girl, I could easily see why you would want to date him, though I’ve never gone in that direction. He’s sweet, smart, speaks in a low voice. I think he knew how to talk to a girl while some of us were being toilet-trained. … I saw Tyrone Power once at the Pittsburgh Playhouse when I was 19. Warren is way better looking than him.”
Directing style: “His trick was to get terrific actors and create an environment where they could shine. He would suggest something, but not criticize.”
Booking “Ishtar”: “Nothing was exorbitant about the production; however, the film’s $50 million pricetag was put in the title. Nowadays, that’s an independent film.”
Al Pacino, last year’s AFI Life Achievement honoree, took on the role that Beatty ostensibly turned down, Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” The rest is history.
Beatty behind the camera: “I like the way he makes an actor feel. He gives you confidence and allows you to take chances because you trust his censorship and intelligence. I have never met a director whose taste I have trusted more.”
Beatty’s multiple hats on “Dick Tracy”: “Warren slips into actor, director and producer as if he can make a career out of each. The only people who should attempt this are the ones who can excel in all three.”
Big Boy Caprice: “The role attracted me because Warren talked me into it….Discussions about the role went something like this: ‘What should I do, Warren?’ and he said, ‘You’ll think of something.’ And it worked. This was the best direction I have ever had.”
On the bulk of Warren Beatty’s directorial projects, Vittorio Storaro has been the d.p. of choice.
Acting out for “Reds”: “Honestly, I knew little about (the film’s protagonist) John Reed. … I went to Warren’s hotel, the Carlisle in New York. I’m used to a director explaining the concept of the movie to me. However, Warren acted the entire story out. I was mesmerized.”
Actorly p.o.v. : “I’m used to the European way of using a camera. … In this way, the director is visually writing the story. … Warren’s camera movements are justified by the actor. … I was used to seeing a film from an outside point of view, like a director. Warren, being an actor, sees the opposite. He sees the scene from completely inside.”
As writer-director James Toback’s career was taking off in the late ’70s, he began an intense working relationship with Beatty. While the pinnacle of their collaboration remains 1991’s “Bugsy,” Beatty also produced Toback’s 1987 romantic comedy “The Pick-Up Artist” and tapped the scribe to doctor his 1994 weepie “Love Affair.”
In love with a gangster: “The two roles Warren always wanted to play were Bugsy Siegel and Howard Hughes. In 1982, he first brought the idea up of ‘Bugsy.’ I was to write it in six months but delivered it six years later. … I sent it to him with the idea that I would direct. After he read it, he mentioned how terrific it would be if Barry Levinson directed it right after ‘Rain Man.’ ‘Did you offer it to him?’ I asked. ‘Yeah,’ responded Warren. At that point, Bugsy’s homicidal nature was put to shame by my own. ‘If you stick with this, I may not come to work on the movie,’ I told Warren. … I decided to get friendly with Barry during pre-production and then kill him before the movie started. But then I started to like him immediately and thought his ideas were good. I restrained my homicidal impulses and parked my ego in the garage.”
Perfectionist to a fault: “Warren is an inquisitor. He has a dialectical mind. He thinks a situation through and suggests a response that might be cause for further debate. He then talks to another person. He’s an endless, curious provocateur. … On ‘Bugsy,’ Warren kept saying to Barry Levinson and me that the script wasn’t ready, and Barry and I said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
When it comes to script doctoring, Robert Towne has been Beatty’s go-to guy since the late ’60s. His touch-ups include “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Reds” and “The Parallax View.” He and Beatty received an Oscar nom for writing 1975’s “Shampoo.”
Scribe duties: “We first met over a project I had been working on at Columbia that he was interested in at one time. Warren was more interested in the screenplay than the director of the project. We started talking on what would become ‘Shampoo,’ then in the interim he gave me ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ to read.”
Affinity to characters: “At the time we did ‘Shampoo,’ Julie Christie felt that Warren was more akin to Jack Warden’s character Lester Carp. All actors have facets of their characters that they draw upon. Warren, for the most part, couldn’t be unlike George Roundy except for the sole fact that he has a genuine affection for women. … You can look at his movies, and the common denominator in many of his characters, such as John Reed in ‘Reds,’ George in ‘Shampoo’ and John McCabe of ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ is that they have a level of innocence and gullibility that I think he’s drawn to regardless of his intelligence.”
Why Bonnie stayed with Clyde sans sex: “Clyde viewed her in a way that made her feel special. The romance was at that level. … They were the beginning of a surrogate family.”