Who's afraid of Warren Beatty? Based on the reaction to today's news that the 74-year-old has agreed to write, direct and star in an untitled new romantic comedy for Paramount (his first on-camera appearance since 2001's Town & Country, and the first movie he's directed since Bulworth in 1998), the answer seems to be, everyone. Considering the actor's past history of creating behind-the-scenes agitation, this is not an unreasonable response. Here's a quick perusal of the legendary actor's career history.
He has a history of alienating writers
This seemed to be the most common complaint voiced by Beatty's collaborators in Star, former Premiere magazine editor Peter Biskind's exhaustive 2010 biography of the actor. "Warren is an underachiever," said screenwriter Bo Goldman, who maintains he should have been the credited writer on Beatty's Dick Tracy. (He was listed as a "special consultant" instead.) "He could have made five more wonderful movies, he could have been governor, he could have done everything, but his ego gets in the way." Robert Towne (who, according to Biskind, Beatty "induced" to work on the script for The Parallax View during the 1973 Writer's Guild strike) groused so much about Beatty being credited as co-screenwriter on Shampoo two years later that mutual friend David Geffen tried to talk Beatty out of taking the credit. (It didn't work.) In 1998, longtime friend James Toback, who Beatty had commissioned to write an early draft of Bulworth, told Variety editor Peter Bart, "When I saw the final shooting script, there was a lot of my stuff in there." Beatty and Jeremy Pikser were the credited writers and shared a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
He doesn't like doing publicity
This wouldn't be that big of a problem, except Beatty always says he's going to do publicity. For Ishtar, he was slated to appear on the cover of Esquire and ride a camel in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Neither happened. In 1981, he wouldn't promote Reds--his sympathetic biopic about American communist activist John Reed. 25 years later, he explained to Entertainment Weekly that he thought "the conventional publicity binge" would hurt the film. His p.r. blackout certainly didn't harm the film: it wound up with 12 Oscars.
He has a habit of not sticking up for his directors
It's probably a good thing Beatty is listed as the director of the new project from the outset, since he's often ended up in very public squabbles with them. In 1998, when Biskind interviewed him for his history of New Hollywood Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Beatty was still fuming at McCabe & Mrs. Miller director Robert Altman for the film's muddy sound and color mix back in 1971. "Things had progressed to such anarchy in the studio system, and filmmakers were treated with such respect, we could've photographed the movie in darkness and they would've said that was an interesting approach," said Beatty. On Ishtar, he quietly undermined an overmatched Elaine May. On Town & Country (nominally directed by Peter Chelsom), he submitted his own cut of the film to New Line executives and brought in his own script doctor (Buck Henry) to rewrite the unfinished script in mid-production. For good measure, he also let co-star Garry Shandling bring in Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) to hammer out his own version.
He is sometimes slow to pay people
In 1997, Beatty paid Aaron Sorkin $700,000 to write a script for the as-yet-unmade astronaut movie, Ocean of Storms. According to The Gross, Peter Bart's week-by-week account of the 1998 movie season, Sorkin was in the middle of that assignment when Beatty told him to come by his office to discuss an "important" matter, which turned out to be an early draft of Bulworth that the actor wanted him to read. After hearing Sorkin's critiques, Beatty told him to put aside Ocean of Storms and rewrite Bulworth. "After many meetings with Beatty and nine weeks of work, however," writes Bart, "Sorkin began to feel like Beatty's house writer." He filed against Beatty and Fox, which was financing Ocean of Storms, for nonpayment after Sorkin failed to meet his delivery date, because he was working on Bulworth. The suit was eventually settled and Sorkin went back to work on the astronaut movie and got his full $700,000.
He has a questionable eye for good roles
Every esteemed actor of a certain has passed on some notable projects, but the roles Beatty didn't take, taken with his scant output, raise questions about his ability to spot good material. Since 1995, he's passed on: Nixon (as Nixon), Boogie Nights (the Burt Reynolds role), Kill Bill I and II (Tarantino wanted him for Bill) and Frost/Nixon (again, as Nixon).
He is loyal
This is an admirable trait, but it's gotten Beatty in trouble over the years, most notably on Ishtar, the infamous 1987 flop Beatty says he made as a favor to frequent collaborator Elaine May. "I said to Elaine that if she wanted to write a movie, she should write a movie," Beatty told New York magazine's David Blum at the time. "I said that we should try and make a movie that she wrote and directed. I said I would produce it for her." He didn't want to fire May, even after a disastrous shoot on location in Morocco that sent the film's budget spiraling towards $40 million. "“I can’t," he explained to then-Columbia Pictures president Fay Vincent. "I’m a liberal Democrat, a progressive on women’s issues. I can’t fire her. But she can’t direct at all.”Beatty's solution was to keep May on, but bring in three teams of editors to cut the footage--one for him, one for May and one for co-star Dustin Hoffman.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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