Flaunting ‘RULES’ – Warren Beatty reflects on encounters with Howard Hughes’ detail

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UWBP_04953FD_proxy_mdPreston Barta // Editor

If you grew up in Texas, you’re bound to have heard a few different stories about Warren Beatty and his 1967 film BONNIE AND CLYDE. The infamous couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were known for using secluded areas in and around Denton County as hideouts between their crime sprees in the 1930s, and portions of the 1967 film starring Beatty were naturally shot in the area, too.

Stories of both film shoots and the real-life duo of robbers were a big part of my upbringing. My grandfather used to share tales with me when I was a young boy, while we walked around downtown Denton to get chocolate milkshakes at Beth Marie’s. So, to exchange words with Beatty, the legend himself, as he stopped in Dallas recently was even more of a treat.

Beatty hasn’t been in a film in 15 years, and hasn’t directed one since 1998’s still-brilliant Bulworth. But now in RULES DON’T APPLY, which opened Wednesday, Beatty returns behind and in front of the camera for a love story set against the backdrop of Howard Hughes’ Hollywood.

Small town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) finds herself attracted to her personal driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), even though it defies their employer Howard Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have an intimate relationship with a contract actress. Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.

Small town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) finds herself attracted to her personal driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), even though it defies their employer Howard Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have an intimate relationship with a contract actress. Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.

When I asked about how long he has been fascinated by Hughes’ mythology, he responded with, “A better question would be how long have I been amused by Hughes.”

“I remember coming to Hollywood around 1958, the period this film is set in, and while I wasn’t working for Hughes, I was working for people who had similar amounts of choice as him,” Beatty recalled. “Hughes was very interested in controlling everything, especially how he was seen, which in a lot of ways reflects myself.”

From the start of his career with Elia Kazan’s 1961 classic SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS to his directorial debut, 1978’s HEAVEN CAN WAIT, Beatty has been quite careful in the movies he chooses to do. This philosophy has been persistent in his entire career.

“When I produced BONNIE AND CLYDE, I realized it’s better to be in control. That way, the only person who can fire me is me,” Beatty quipped.

While Beatty’s formative years living in Virginia helped lead to the way he makes his movies, the story seen in RULES DON’T APPLY stems from an encounter he had in 1964.

“I had an appropriate paranoia about being tailed by tabloids. Like Hughes, I was very private and secretive,” Beatty said. “I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and people were looking at me as I’d walked to my suite. So I called the front desk to explain the situation and they asked me to keep something in confidence. They told me the people spying on me were not with the tabloids but were people with Mr. Hughes.”

The people Beatty thought were from the tabloids was actually a security team guarding Hughes’ “seven suites and five bungalows.” With Hughes’ reputation, this was, as Beatty coined it, “an automatic French farce” that he could use in a comedic or storytelling situation.

“I never met him, but I like to say I’ve met everybody who did ever meet him,” Beatty joked.
The experience influenced Beatty’s new film, but one wonders if Hughes’ personality influenced the film’s structure and style. In the film, many scenes go by quickly until the moment we meet Beatty’s Hughes 35 minutes into the film. From there, things begin to slow down so we can get a better sense of Hughes’ more touching side.

“I hadn’t thought about it before, but that’s probably an astute point,” said star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays one of the film’s romantic leads. “I feel as though that is one of the feeling’s Beatty is creating: something that’s frenetic. Working for Hughes, it’s going to have that energy to it.”

Lily Collins, who portrays a contract actress who captures the heart of Ehrenreich’s character, added: “As frenetic as the film can be, there are some quiet moments that allow audiences to digest information and better understand the characters. The fast moments and the slower ones add to the erratic behavior of Hughes.”

RULES DON’T APPLY is a film where, just like its title suggests, the rules of Hollywood filmmaking don’t apply to Beatty. Beatty has always been a rebel of sorts, making films that feel different than the norm, and this is what sets his latest apart from others like it.

Feature Photo: Legendary filmmaker Warren Beatty stars as Howard Hughes in RULES DON’T APPLY, which Beatty wrote, directed and produced. Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.