Warren Beatty on His Friendship with John McCain

Danny Moloshok / Reuters

"I like Obama. I like Hillary I like McCain, and when I get ready to say something publicly, I will do it," Warren Beatty told me.

I had called the actor to ask about a report—well, mostly a rumor—that John McCain had told Mr. Beatty, who had become a close friend, that in 2004, he voted for John Kerry and not for George W. Bush.

Beatty would have none of it. "Mystifying," he called my question.

"I don’t understand the ridiculousness of this process that makes that a subject of your work. Isn't it clear that the McCain campaigned for the Republican candidate?"

"What I think is interesting is whoever these people are, their making up something that I said while and refusing to be identified and at the same time, they are saying that John McCain is lying about whom it was he voted. And it seems to me to be such a non-story. It's clear that John McCain campaigned for the Republican candidate."

He went on:

"It seems to me that the reason why people are doing this is to attempt to dramatize some sort of duplicity in a man who … I’ve known John McCain for a long time. He always said he was a conservative. He was a conservative. He is a conservative. It seems that people should take John McCain for what he says he is."

Has John McCain changed much from 2000, when, in the glow of his apostasy from Republican orthodoxies, he found himself embraced by many friends in Hollywood? [Note: Beatty's friendship with McCain predates the 2000 campaign.]

"I think I've made it clear that I’m a liberal Democrat.. and I have never found that to … I consider my friendships to be friendships." He paused. "Let me say this a better way. I don’t think that political ideology is necessarily germane to friendships. "

I told him I agreed.

Beatty, as Bullworth in the 1998 film of the same name, played a no-bullshit, shoot from the lip politico who didn't care a whit about the conventional rules of politics. The picture predated McCain's first presidential campaign by a year, and the character became an archetype for the press to follow. The comparisons were hard for lovelorn liberals to resist.

Over the phone, Beatty speaks cautiously and slowly.

"There is something called a voting booth which relates to privacy. It seems to me, I think, that people should concentrate on legitimate differences between the conservative and liberal points of view. I think there’s plenty to concentrate on there."