After more than 40 years in the pipeline, it is finally on the way – but it may be his last film
Having spent more than 40 years trying to bring his Howard Hughes biopic to the big screen, Warren Beatty has moved one step closer to completing what is likely to be his cinematic farewell.
Alec Baldwin last week became the latest star reported to have joined the cast of the as yet untitled project in which Beatty stars in the lead role. He also directs and produces for the first time since Bulworth in 1998. The 77-year-old was last seen on the big screen in 2001’s Town & Country, an epic flop that lost $80m at the box office.
The $27m romantic drama, which began filming in February and will be released next year, is a lifelong ambition for Beatty and focuses on the latter years of the eccentric billionaire. It follows Martin Scorsese’s 2004 portrayal of Hughes’s early life in The Aviator.
British actress Lily Collins co-stars as Hughes’s young assistant, while Martin Sheen and Beatty’s wife, Annette Bening, also appear. Baldwin plays Hughes’s lawyer Bob Maheu who reportedly never actually met his boss and received all his instructions on notes.
Beatty, who has long held a reputation for perfectionism and of being one of the most difficult men to work with in Hollywood, is well known for moving at a glacial pace. He first began working on Reds, his Oscar-wnning epic about US journalist John Reed and the Russian Revolution, which he starred in, wrote, produced and directed, in the mid-1960s, before completing it in 1981. But his new film is easily his longest planned project yet.
Beatty’s first encounter with the eccentric billionaire and recluse occurred at a Beverly Hills hotel in 1973. Hughes had booked six rooms and four bungalows. “That’s where he puts the girls,” the receptionist told an impressed Beatty. It sparked a decades-long interest in a movie project on Hughes’s life.
Beatty even signed a contract with Warner in the mid-1970s that obligated him to do his Howard Hughes before Heaven Can Wait, the hugely successful 1978 comedy that garnered nine Oscar nominations. After various postponements, Beatty’s 1987 flop Ishtar, which he produced and starred in, forced him to reconsider and he chose Dick Tracy instead.
In Star, his biography of Beatty, Peter Biskind said the Hughes project became “the stuff of myth”. He wrote: “Beatty’s friends speculated about his fascination with Hughes and it didn’t take Freud to notice the affinity between the two men. They were both tangled up in movies and used Hollywood as a sexual sandbox.”
Beatty first began auditioning actors for the role in 2007, seven years before production began. Mr Biskind said he was glad that Beatty had finally got behind the camera as he would not want Town & Country to be his final film. He said: “In the 1970s and 1980s, everything Warren Beatty touched turned to gold, but then it just went up and down. Bugsy was a good movie but Love Affair was horrible. Bulworth was really good, although it didn’t make that much money, and then Town & Country was a disaster. Warren has a lot of pride and he will not want that picture to be his last.”
The writer said Beatty would have seen contemporaries such as Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford still acting and directing and want to prove he had not lost his touch. “He has always been competitive with Redford, whom he never really liked,” said Mr Biskind. “Warren’s too old to be bankable now. Is it a gamble? Big pictures are all gambles. The budget is relatively low, but, if it’s successful, perhaps he’ll have the money to make another movie. Who knows?”