Dear Warren Beatty,
Please explain something. When you were in Toronto last month to promote your new film Rules Don't Apply – the first one you've directed in 18 years, which you also wrote and star in – we had an off-the-record conversation about politics and you were completely charming: relaxed, funny, engaged, genuinely curious.
When you talked about people you knew and know – Ronald Reagan, John McCain, John Kennedy, Jane Russell, William Wilder (you referred to him as "Willy"), Jack Warner, David Lean – you tacitly acknowledged that you've spent decades in the rooms of power, but you weren't boastful. You frequently touched my arm, in a chivalrous way. You liked conversing.
Earlier, on stage for a post-screening Q&A, you held the crowd in your can't-believe-it's-79-years-old palm. You freely mentioned that you lost your virginity "at 19 and a half," adding, "I could also say I thought of nothing else from the age of 10."
The next day, in a hotel room for our on-the-record interview, you bemoaned that it was only 15 minutes: "I hate to have these abbreviated … premature ejaculations," you said, laughing. "It would be good to hang out for a week or two." When I let slip a colloquialism for "fornicate," you dived: "Did you just say what I think you said? Good. That releases me to speak in my actual language."
Then – and this is the part I cannot understand – the minute I switched on my recorder, you fed me canned answers until our time was up.
The same canned answers you'd given on stage and to Vanity Fair and to The New York Times, no matter what I asked.
Rules Don't Apply is about two newcomers to 1958 Hollywood who are sucked into the shadowy orbit of billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes: Marla (Lily Collins), an aspiring actress, and Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), the chauffeur whom Hughes (you) hires to drive her. Though Hughes forbids fraternizing, Marla and Frank fall in love; they rise toward self-realization while he declines into madness. Despite your evident self-awareness, your film is oddly un-self-aware and I wanted to talk about that. Did you cast Collins and Ehrenreich because they look spookily like Natalie Wood and you in your first film, 1961's Splendor in the Grass? Both films are about the consequences of sexual repression, after all. Did you relate to Hughes because you're members of a rare club: people who have all the money, power and access they want? Hughes went mad – how do you stay sane?
In response, you gave me pre-packaged lines: "I did not know Hughes, but sometimes I think I knew everyone who knew him." "I could never see my way to doing a picture that was mainly about Hughes, the way I did with Bonnie and Clyde or Bugsy or Reds." "I think the comical and sad consequences of American sexual puritanism, which has made us the laughingstock of France and other countries, is worth investigating." Your conversation was stilted, riddled with pauses. You qualified words that don't need qualifying ("what I like to call publicity"). It was beyond careful. It was calculated.
But why? Calculated to do what? Yes, the journalist Peter Biskind inflated the number of women you slept with to an absurd degree in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Must you be glued to your go-to response ("It was not that I was afraid of marriage. I was afraid of divorce")? Would it be so terrible if more people knew, for example, that once when you were dating Diane Keaton, and she was afraid to fly, you drove her to the L.A. airport – and then, to her surprise, got on the plane with her, held her hand all the way to New York, kissed her goodbye and flew straight back?
You're protective of your four kids (the eldest of whom is a transgender activist), and your 24-year marriage to your wife, Annette Bening, who plays Marla's mom in Rules Don't Apply. Would it kill you if more people knew that on the set, Bening knew how to nudge you out of your 30-take marathons and made sure you were drinking enough water? I wish you showed more people the less-careful you.
For one moment in our interview, you did. You were telling me a lightly packaged story about your first meeting with Bening. "She was a tiny bit late for lunch," you said. "I was eating garlic chicken. I was really into the chicken. It took me between five and 10 seconds to lose interest in the chicken, because I knew something was going to happen that did happen. I should say, I wanted something to happen that did happen."
I pressed: "What did you want?" At last, you gave me what felt like a real answer. "That's an unanswerable question that can only be responded to by saying that I believe very much in the blink that is provided by the unconscious," you said. "As I've gotten older, I've trusted the blink more and more. My blink was, 'Oh, I see. I'm going to have to change the way I'm living.' That was immediate. And I was not wrong."
Mr. Beatty – Warren – my friend, you read The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal every morning. You've survived seven decades in the public eye. You've worked with legendary filmmakers on seminal films. You've won your profession's highest honour, the Irving G. Thalberg Award. You know as much about women as any man alive. Trust the blink. Ditch the canned Warren Beatty. Show us what the real one is like.