Exclusive: Warren Beatty on Bill Clinton

Exclusive: Warren Beatty on Bill Clinton, Charlton Heston, His New Movie, and Family Life

Warren Beatty says his televised chat with former President Bill Clinton — which was observed Sunday night during a cliffhanger Knicks-Lakers game — was not in the least bit unfriendly. Lots of mail and calls have come in regarding this event since Clinton seemed extra animated and possibly red-faced while he and Beatty talked during the game.

“Not at all,” Beatty told me yesterday in a long and relaxed phone call from his home in the Hollywood Hills. “It was an interesting and energetic conversation, but I’m not going to tell you the exact details. What I will say is that it was very loud in the arena and we were rather high up so you had to speak up to be heard. But we had a good talk. Maybe it appeared otherwise because we couldn’t be heard on TV.”

Beatty waxed positive about his upcoming starring role in Town & Country, Peter Chelsom’s romantic comedy that opens at last on April 27. The movie has a long and checkered history, starting with the fact that it began production three years ago and probably cost between $80-$100 million — a record for the genre. Town & Country's weird timeline probably cost New Line Cinema’s Michael DeLuca his job, and certainly launched a thousand stories about a movie in distress. Many entertainment writers, including myself, guessed that the Oscar-winning director Beatty (for Reds, 1981), took over from the less accomplished Chelsom. But the star insists this is not true.

“When you’ve got four kids, you relish the opportunity to be a hired actor,” Beatty reiterated to me. “Plus, we had Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Garry Shandling, all of whom are directors. So everyone had an opinion, believe me. We started 10 days after I finished Bulworth, in which I had all the responsibility, and I didn’t want that again. You can’t have a little responsibility on a film. It’s all or nothing.”

Beatty said he hasn’t seen the movie yet, but hears it’s “quite good. I saw it quite a while ago. And you know the whole business that we went into without a finished script and the actors had stop dates.” Eventually, after many rewrites by Buck Henry, Beatty himself added a voice over at the end which was a kind of summing up, he said. “It’s a middle-aged sex comedy. It’s light. I don’t know what people expect. I guess with all the outlets this whole expectation builds up, but it would be better if a film could be judged when it’s seen.”

(He was talking not only in general terms, but also about Mike NicholsWhat Planet Are You From? which starred Beatty’s wife, two-time Oscar nominated actress Annette Bening {American Beauty, The Grifters}. The movie was dumped on when it was released, but has gained a loyal following, now that it’s playing on cable. “Isn’t Annette great in it?” Beatty asked, proudly.)

Town & Country also features an appearance by Charlton Heston, not exactly in the same camp as Beatty politically. But the actor says that didn’t matter. “I like him a lot. I found Chuck to be a straightforward, likeable guy. We do have totally different political leanings. I’ve been an advocate of gun control since 1968. But it’s surprising how those things are not important when you’re working together.”

On the family front, Beatty, who’s 61 and waited to get married and have kids until later in life, said he’s having a ball. “There isn’t a day when I’m not utterly fascinated by them,” he said of his three daughters and one son with Bening. He doesn’t regret starting so late, either. “There’s no point in regretting anything, because then they wouldn’t have been these kids,” he said. “And I don’t know if I had the capacity to do it before.” He told me that Bening rarely has time to sleep while she’s caring for one child or another. And the older kids, he said, “have their own schedules. All of it, the dance lessons, everything.”

As for new projects, once Town & Country is launched, Beatty said he’s just finishing up a script which he will direct. “I’m in the last stages of something I’ve written and which I will have a lot more than writing to do on. And I dread that a lot, because it will mean less time with the family. With Town & Country I was able to go down there, do the job, and come home.”

Whatever happens with Town & Country, Warren Beatty — winner of last year’s Thalberg award from the Academy — is always an important creative force in Hollywood. Just rent Reds if you’ve never seen it. A great, great film, about an important subject, brilliantly told. And Beatty’s subtly charged work as a hired actor in Barry Levinson’s Bugsy won him an Oscar nomination as well. And he may yet be part of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill film noir project, when and if it’s done. “Quentin has no more dedicated fan,” Beatty told me. “And I think he’s going to explode with a lot of scripts all at once.”