Do movie stars still deserve star salaries? The chilly opening of Inferno starring Tom Hanks suggests once again that stars don’t “open” movies, even though the Hanks-Clint Eastwood team spelled box office success for Sully. Putting box office aside, I would contend that stars earn their salaries at this time of year – awards season – when every star and star director is on the circuit pitching his (or hers) wares.
Even Warren Beatty is ubiquitous these days, having gone silent for 15 years. At age 79, his presence, pushing Rules Don’t Apply, poses a unique challenge to the small army of folks who interrogate stars for a living. The typical movie star talks in sound bites; for Beatty, an interview might last five hours, as Cara Buckley of The New York Times reminded us last week. I once offended Beatty by disappearing from a lunch after three hours.
Does Warren Beatty have that much to say? Yes and no. His manner of speech, with its long pauses and convoluted sentence structure, embodies a sort of cerebral narcissism that often is difficult to de-code.
Beatty insists that his new movie should not be described as “a Howard Hughes movie” because, as he told the Times, “I’m more interested in myself than in Howard Hughes.” And despite the fact that Rules Don’t Apply is about the tensions of a young couple (played by Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich), the movie is really about the control freak who Beatty portrays (Hughes) and his ambiguous ideas about power and sexual impropriety.
Beatty himself has had his bouts with ambiguity. He was famously ambiguous in his dealings with Peter Biskind on his Beatty biography, which was at once authorized and unauthorized (Beatty issued a statement dumping on it, then seemed to change his mind). I once worked quite productively on a Beatty movie (The Parallax View), but I’ve always had difficulty understanding his obsession with Hughes, given the fact that his story has been told several times in film and in books. But Beatty’s tastes, like those of Hughes, are nothing if not eclectic, spanning hits like Bonnie And Clyde and Shampoo and disturbances like Ishtar and Town & Country. In his interviews, Beatty tends to talk more about the first category than the second.
But release of the appropriately titled Rules Don’t Apply gives Beatty a chance to apply his own rules of stardom: the Big Presence and the Big Entrance. As he works his way patiently through the awards-season circuit, he not only builds an audience for his film but also builds his own mythology. He is a remnant of the old Star System, when stars earned a big piece of the action because their acceptance of a leading role ensured that their movie would “open.”
Will Rules “open”? Control freak that he is, even Beatty cannot control that.