Warren Beatty on Why ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ Is Timeless, How Trump Will Affect Hollywood’s Future

'Rules Don't Apply'
Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

The mood was somewhat somber on Thursday night at the opening night gala of AFI Fest, which commenced with the world premiere of New Regency and 20th Century Fox’s “Rules Don’t Apply” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. 

With protests over the 2016 election continuing for a second night just miles away in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood hardly felt ready to come together to celebrate its craft again. And yet the presence of two of this town’s most revered talents – AFI Life Achievement Award recipient and Academy Award winner Warren Beatty and his wife, four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening – made things seem somewhat a little bit better, if only for one special night.

“She’s very nice to me,” Beatty joked to Variety about how he was able to convince Bening to agree to appear in the first project he’s written, produced, and directed in 18 years. “So, she did agree to be in the movie.”

“Every film has been long in the making for me, if I produced it,” Beatty said about the long-gestating project, in which he plays legendary Hollywood eccentric Howard Hughes. “And I haven’t made as many movies as most people have. It feels good [to premiere it] tonight. It feels really good.”

“I think there are things – particularly in American mores – that don’t go away,” Beatty added in response to being asked how themes from the film’s 1958 setting might resonate with 2016 audiences. “And I think things that have to do with sex and romance – particularly in a place like Hollywood, which for years has sort of merchandised these things – I think [these mores are] permanent, on some level.” 

As for how the recent election could affect future artistic choices in Hollywood? 

“I think political circumstance always affects our energy,” Beatty said. “I think we have to take a pause here and study the situation and then see how to deal with it. I don’t think we know yet.”

“I think (the election) will fire people up,” added Bening. “I think there will be a lot of interesting things that will come from this time, artistically.”

Before introducing Beatty inside of the full Chinese Theatre, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale gave a warm welcome to the crowd of film enthusiasts, reminding everyone how the artistic power of film has the potential to bring people together in troubled times. 

Beatty then welcomed the crowd by sharing an anecdote about his first time visiting the Chinese Theatre.

“It was 1958 and I came here with a couple of friends to see ‘South Pacific,'” he explained. “I was staying at a place here in Hollywood up on Franklin Avenue called the Montecito Hotel, which I think is now a nice apartment building. The room was so small that you had the pull the bed out of the wall. And so we made this movie during that same time period, but about two kids who never necessarily had to pull the bed out of the wall.”

Also dazzling the crowds were the actors depicting the film’s two young stars, Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, who respectively play fictional ingénue Marla Mabrey and her driver and paramour, Frank Forbes.

“I relied a lot on Warren, as a mentor, to answer questions,” Collins told Variety about how she prepared for her role. “To inform us about what it was really like during that period, because it was when he came to Hollywood. So I just gave up a lot of trust to him, and had fun with it.”

The party continued afterwards across the street at the Roosevelt Hotel, where the crowd mingled over wine and passed hors d’oeuvres. But the mood for the evening remained generally as somber as it began. While welcoming a grand return and a crowning achievement from one of film’s most iconic figures, it hardly felt like an appropriate time to indulge.