EXCLUSIVE: It took two decades, but it’s finally getting off the ground thanks to billionaires Ron Burkle and Steve Bing, Windsor Media’s Terry Semel, Arnon Milchan’s New Regency and James Packer’s and Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment. The heavies have come together to finance Warren Beatty’s long-gestating Howard Hughes-based project. The roughly $26.7M production, which Beatty will direct and star in as Hughes, will revolve around Hughes’ assistant (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures) and his love interest (Lily Collins, Mirror, Mirror). New Regency, Beatty and Ratner are producing, with Packer executive producing. Regency will handle foreign through Fox. They’ve already shot a small amount of film on the picture, but it starts rolling in earnest today. Beatty’s wife Annette Bening and Matthew Broderick and other surprises are expected (a la Jack Nicholson, maybe? One can only hope). The focus of the film is the love story of the two younger characters.
The public knows Beatty as a talented actor, but he is a heck of a director and writer, too. Two of the pictures he wrote and directed – the love stories Heaven Can Wait (co-director Buck Henry) and Reds — were Best Picture Oscar nominees. The cult favorite Heaven Can Wait (based on the stage play Here Comes Mr. Jordan and better than the original 1941 film) was nominated for nine Oscars, though it won only for art direction, and Reds, earned 12 Oscar noms and won three, including best director for Beatty. He also directed Dick Tracy. He hasn’t helmed a film since 1998, when he produced the critical fave Bulworth about a politician who, for once, tells the truth. It was an enormous undertaking in that he also produced and starred from his own script (with co-writer Jeremy Pikser). The picture, which co-starred Halle Berry, also contained a love story. The new, untitled project, which would be his fifth time at the helm, was written solely by Beatty. “We all love Warren, so we all got together to support him,” said one of the investors.
From a business standpoint, if Beatty can keep the cap on the budget and a handle on overages, it actually could do quite well. In 2004, The Aviator, which was based on Hughes’ life, took in as much overseas as it did domestically for a total worldwide gross of $213.7M. Of course, it was a Martin Scorsese film and did have Leonardo DiCaprio starring as Hughes. The Aviator was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won five. Sources say Beatty’s film is not Hughes-centric, but with the kind of star power he will be able to pull in, it could be a really nice ensemble piece.
Beatty will play a man who was as brilliant as he was eccentric. Hughes was born in 1905 to an inventor father and became an inventor himself. He would inherit millions but was a keen businessman and investor whose love for aviation prompted him to start his own aerospace company — Hughes Aircraft, which became a big defense contractor, would later sell to General Motors for $5.2 billion nine years after his 1976 death. He broke several air speed records and most famously was known for the Hercules H-4, aka the Spruce Goose, which was the largest cargo plane ever constructed. It was a sight to behold with a wingspan longer than a football field, 17 propellers and eight engines. Hughes was always the test pilot on his own creations, and he flew his 300,000-pound gorilla only once for one mile on a test run. Testing his own planes would almost cost him his life in 1946, when he crashed a newly engineered plane into a home in Beverly Hills. Hughes sustained serious injuries — including a broken leg, multiple broken ribs, a fractured skull, third-degree burns and a dislodged heart — and was lucky to survive.
In later years, his mental stability faltered, and he was said to have deteriorated into paranoia and germaphobia. His name then became synonymous with reclusiveness. So Beatty will be portraying such a fascinating man. Hughes also was a film producer and dated movie stars of the day such as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Ava Gardner. He owned several Las Vegas casinos, including the Desert Inn and The Sands. Politically, he was a big anti-communist and a severe Republican.