More than two decades in the making, Warren Beatty‘s cinematic ode to Howard Hughes and Hollywood Rules Don’t Apply finally made its world premiere at AFI Fest last night, and you couldn’t have wished for a better love song to yesteryear Tinseltown than this project.
Throughout the years, Beatty’s feature competed with other Hughes projects that filmmakers were trying to tackle (at one point in 1998 Brian DePalma, screenwriter David Koepp, and Nicolas Cage were mulling a feature), with Martin Scorsese’s Aviator hitting the screen first in 2004. But Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply isn’t a serious biopic, rather a romantic comedy about a young burgeoning actress from Virginia (Lily Collins) and a young man from Fresno (Alden Ehrenreich) who arrive in Hollywood 1958, and find themselves in the eccentric Hughes’ employ.
In introducing Beatty last night before the premiere, AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale regaled the crowd with a moment when Warner Bros.’ Jack Warner didn’t see eye to eye with Beatty during 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde which the actor also produced. Gazzale explained that Warner would point to the water tower on the lot to remind actors who was really in charge of the studio. Gazzale said, “Warren’s response was ‘It’s got your name, but it’s got my initials.'”
Beatty took the mic, remembering when he first arrived to Hollywood in 1958 when Rules Don’t Apply is set: “I had dinner at Musso & Frank’s and right afterward came to Grauman’s Chinese to see South Pacific. I was staying at the Montecito Hotel, just a few blocks away. It’s an apartment house now up on Franklin. And what I do remember is that I had an extremely small room. In fact, you had to pull the bed out of the wall, but I no longer have to pull the bed out of the wall.” In Rules Don’t Apply, Ehrenreich’s Frank Forbes also has a Murphy bed. “I want to tell you how honored I feel for all of you to see this movie that we made about two kids who meet when they arrive in Hollywood 1958 under contract to a man who I suspect never had to pull the bed out of the wall,” added Beatty.
At the afterparty at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ehrenreich explained that his character was a composite of some actors that Beatty knew growing up, not to mention there was a guy named Frank in Hughes’ roster. The actor, who recently finished some stunt prep work for his title turn in Disney’s Han Solo movie which goes into production next year, told us that Rules Don’t Apply turned out being more comical than the actors thought during the late 2014 shoot. Heaven Can Wait actor Charles Grodin years ago told me about Beatty’s fortes as a director: “His trick was to get terrific actors and create an environment where they could shine. He would suggest something, but not criticize.” Ehrenreich, too, appreciated Beatty’s directing style from an actor’s p.o.v. Beatty, who at one point in 2011 met with Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Evan Rachel Wood and Shia LaBeouf, beamed that Ehrenreich and Collins in their respective roles as Marla Mabrey and Frank Forbes “were wonderfully intelligent, genuinely filled with humility, wit and talent; I was very fortunate to see that in them”.
Beatty, 79, explained that Rules Don’t Apply “is a story that’s inventive and when you do a movie about someone who actually lived, it’s inevitable that it’s fiction like history; all history is fiction. I’ve done this several times before with Bonnie and Clyde, Bugsy and Reds. All three of those are filled with fiction. The main characters in those three movies actually lived, but the two kids in this are composite characters. I’d like to quote Henry Ford who said ‘History is Bunk’ as well as Winston Churchill who said ‘History will be kind to me because I intend to write it’, and Napoleon, who said ‘History is a set of lies agreed upon’. So, you make up a story, and you don’t know where it came from. You do your best work when you don’t know when you’re working.”
And about history — what about that shocker election on Tuesday night when controversial Republican nominee Donald Trump became the first outsider who’ll step into the White House? While parts of the nation are grief-stricken and protesting over Trump’s ascent to the U.S. presidency, Beatty, the former director/star of political comedy Bulworth and 1972 presidential campaign worker for George McGovern, struck a positive, hopeful note: “We have to avoid cynicism, we have to realize that. We have to take it easy and understand what’s happening and try to unify the best approach.”
Beatty collaborator, screenwriter/filmmaker James Toback once said to me that the Oscar-winning director “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.” As such, it’s no secret that Beatty has been editing Rules Don’t Apply for a while. In regards to watching it tonight, and whether he finds the film to be truly finished, Beatty returned to verse with a quote from French poet Paul Valery, “‘A poem is never finished, it’s only abandoned’. You can keep on and on, but there’s a time when the pragmatics say ‘Okay, we’re done.'”
Deadline’s Peter Bart first learned about the title to Beatty’s Hughes movie back in October 2011. Interesting backstory: the title Rules Don’t Apply comes from the lovelorn song that Collins sings in the movie. Though her character hopes to join Hughes’ starlet company, her character Marla Mabrey knows that her strength lies in songwriting and she performs the ditty “The Rules Don’t Apply” four times in the movie, once to Frank and another time to Hughes. Beatty literally named the title of the movie after the song which he commissioned from one of the jazz singers on Dick Tracy, Grammy nominated songwriter Lorraine Feather. She penned the lyrics, while Eddie Arkin wrote the music. Feather received the request to pen the song about a decade ago. Beatty was looking for a song performed by Marla’s character about a young woman whose life has passed her by. After turning in the song, Feature didn’t hear back from Beatty for quite some time. But the song in its entirety was kept in the final cut.
Also attending last night’s event alongside Beatty, Collins, Ehrenreich, Feather and Arkin were Rules Don’t Apply castmembers Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick with wife Sarah Jessica Parker, Taissa Farmiga, Oliver Platt, Marshall Bell, Haley Bennett, Megan Hilty, and Dabney Coleman, pic’s producer Brett Ratner, David O. Russell as well as Sony Pictures Classics co-founder and co-president Michael Barker, actress/filmmaker Julie Delpy, Rosanna Arquette and Robert Forster.