Beatty on Beatty: The actor looks back at his work
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
He debuted as the heartbreaking Bud Stamper in this story of two teens in 1929 Kansas.
”Lucky break — I learned how to make a movie the first time out. With the very best, (Elia) Kazan. I think the picture has a very touching thing about it.”
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)
The unhappy coupling of a middle-aged actress (Vivien Leigh) and an Italian gigolo.
”I took on another nationality, an accent — it gave me a great chance to get away from being a s—kicking, stumbling, mumbling American Method actor. Vivien, when she was well, was everything I had wanted and hoped she would be when I would see her in movies as a kid.”
Beatty plays a therapist trainee who gets hooked by a lovely but evil patient (Jean Seberg).
”A movie about craziness, and I must say that the atmosphere that it was made in could not have been crazier. The picture had some problems in its script and production. It was not a pleasant experience for me.”
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
With this gangster classic, Beatty took control of his career and came away with his first Oscar nomination, for Best Actor.
”I knew we were inspired. There’s something about making a second picture with someone — I’m talking about Arthur Penn and me (they first collaborated on 1965’s Mickey One) — that’s a little bit like going up in a plane with him. The first time up, you can’t very well get out of the plane, so you wait to express your apprehension until you land. If you fly again, you know you want to be there. By the way, about 10 actresses turned it down (Faye Dunaway wound up with the star-making role of Bonnie).”
The Only Game in Town (1970)
He plays a compulsive gambler who falls for Elizabeth Taylor’s Vegas showgirl.
”I liked Elizabeth very, very much. I always felt she was a person whose integrity was a match for her beauty. Had a terrific sense of humor, and I think at that particular point, couldn’t have been less interested in making movies.”
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Robert Altman’s mood piece stars Beatty as a gambler who opens a bordello in a Western boomtown.
”We wrote the story from night to night, as it developed, and a good deal of it — particularly in the background — was improvisational. I thought Julie (Christie, who plays the madam) was pretty magnificent.”
The Parallax View (1974)
A taut political thriller with Beatty as a reporter investigating a senator’s assassination.
”I think of Hume Cronyn when I think of that movie. I used to sit around with him and tell him how crazy I was about Jessica Tandy, and he would get such a big laugh out of that.”
Sexual and political hypocrisy in the late ’60s, as seen through the eyes of a randy hairdresser. ”I saw it last about two years ago, and thought the politics and the sex of it were very accurate. It was an interesting party at the end. We have the big posters of Nixon and Agnew and Ronald Reagan. I remember discussing whether we felt Reagan was passe.”
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
A romantic comedy about an angel in a sweatsuit — a remake of 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan — that earned eight Oscar nominations. Beatty and Buck Henry codirected.
”I first got interested in Heaven Can Wait because Muhammad Ali was a friend of mine. And I thought he would be good in the part. I wanted him to stop fighting, and he wouldn’t. And I said, ‘If you’re gonna keep fighting, then I’m gonna maybe change it to a football player, and play it myself.’ Which I did.”
He produced, directed, cowrote, and starred in this biopic about journalist-revolutionary John Reed, and won an Oscar for Best Director.
”I felt that no one had the power to make it but me. That I had earned the right to make that movie, and that I would do it, and that I would try like hell to make it profitable, which it was, by the way.”
A notorious financial bomb, directed by Elaine May and starring Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as two songwriters on the road in North Africa. ”There was almost no review that didn’t in the first paragraph deal with the cost of the movie. That was an eye-opener — about the business, and the relationship of the entertainment press to business. Ishtar is a very good, not very big, comedy, made by a brilliant woman. And I think it’s funny.”
Dick Tracy (1990)
Beatty returned as director and star of this handsome, stylized version of the ’30s comic strip.
”I got to create a different type of world, to imagine these things with big yellow moons — a completely different look than reality. I think there are a lot of really funny performances. I love the movie. I was amazed that I was getting paid.”