It's possible many of the youngest viewers watching the 89th Academy Awards didn't recognize or know the distinguished veteran actor and director, not to mention the lady by his side, who presented the Best Picture category on Sunday night. But that's likely not the case this morning, as many raced to Google the name Warren Beatty after an inadvertent gaffe for the ages at the very end of the ceremony. In announcing the award, Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner, when in fact it was Barry Jenkins' Moonlight that had taken the prize. Beatty apologized on stage for the mix-up, but the faux pas was an embarrassing flub for a Hollywood legend, not to mention for the industry's biggest night. (PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountants who tabulate the Oscars voting, later apologized for a mix-up that resulted in two envelopes being handed to the veteran actors.) Beatty, who won the Best Director award for Reds in 1981—four years before the birth of Damien Chazelle, the Oscars' youngest Best Director winner ever at 32—was back in theaters this year with the little-seen Rules Don't Apply, but his last major film before that had been nearly 20 years ago with the political—and surprisingly relevant today—satire Bulworth. His heyday was in the '60s and '70s, when his starring role in Bonnie and Clyde—the film whose 50th anniversary he and Dunaway were celebrating—led Hollywood into a so-called American New Wave. But younger viewers should note that beyond Sunday's foul-up, Beatty has a much, much longer career to be remembered for, one that includes serving as the inspiration for Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," dating and directing Madonna (in Dick Tracy), marrying Annette Bening, the classics Shampoo, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Bugsy, and setting a roadmap for the actor moguls of today who not only act in their starring vehicles, but also produce and direct. In a new interview conducted for W's February Best Performances issue—where both he and his wife Bening are featured—he reflects on a long career, from auditioning for Splendor in the Glass with Natalie Wood to directing himself in his latest film.
Everyone knows that your first movie was "Splendor in the Grass." But was that the first movie that you auditioned for?
No. Joshua Logan [director of Picnic and South Pacific] was gonna make a movie called Parrish, which he never made, and I made a screen test with a very nice woman named Jane Fonda.
Did you kiss in that screen test?
I don't want to be in indiscreet.
Jane Fonda told me you had a kissing scene.
That's up to her to be indiscreet about.
And then what was your audition for "Splendor in the Grass" like?
It was a screen test made with a young woman named Natalie Wood and the director named Elia Kazan.
And what was the best advice Elia Kazan gave you as an actor?
Get nine hours of sleep, nothing else is important.
When did you start thinking about making "Rules Don't Apply"?
I had been kicking it around in my head for quite a long time, like I do with most things that I think I might do. I found I had a near miss with a man named Howard Hughes, which I felt was rather amusing. I never met him, by the way, but I did have the feeling that I had met everyone who had ever met him and they all spoke very highly of him. I think he was well-liked but a little impossible. Unpredictable, eccentric and he had his own rules, you know?
You have played real people more than most actors I know—John Reed, Clyde Barrow, now Howard Hughes. Tell me why you play real life people?Why I played real life people? Don't you think that, in some sense, that all of history is crammed with fiction? I do. I don't think I would be able to play somebody that I actually knew, but, I never knew Clyde Barrow or Bugsy Siegel or John Reed or Howard Hughes, and so I'm able to take liberties and allow the imagination to go to work on what these people might have been. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, "History is bunk." I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, "History will be very kind to me because I intend to write it." I like to quote Napoleon, who said, "History is a set of lies agreed upon." But with this movie I got rid of those quotes and I quoted Howard Hughes himself, who said, "Never check an interesting fact." So, I would hear these interesting facts, supposed facts about Howard Hughes from people that knew him and they were all kind of funny and there was no point in checking them because, how do you know if you're getting the right description of what has happened? As someone who has had, how many books have I had written about me? I've never read more than 10 pages of any one of these books because they're fiction, they're fiction.
Was there a film that made you want to become a movie actor?
No. Somebody told me I was good as an actor and that made me want to act. I was 19. There was a woman by the name of Stella Adler who was a brilliant teacher.
And will you please tell me what your first memory of acting was? What did you feel? This would be—weren't you working in like the docks or something?
I was for a short period of time a sandhog in the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Aren't you impressed I remembered that? And you got pneumonia.
No. Why are you saying that?
I thought you did. I just made that up?See that's the kind of invented memory that is so destructive to our society today. [Laughs] You were just told a story that has no basis in reality. Are you sure you don't want to write a book about me because it would be in such good keeping with what has been done? Yeah, he was working as a sandhog and he started to sneeze, you know, and they didn't know what it was so...
He became an actor. [Laughs]
Well, that's kind of a quick jump. I mean can we save that for like the third or fourth chapter?
Okay. So when you were doing this recent movie, "Rules Don't Apply," how difficult was it to direct yourself?
I think that when an actor is directing himself, he has at least one actor who knows, sort of, what the director has in mind.
What do you think the most important quality in a director is?
The capacity to say at the right time cut. [Laughs] That's good, huh?
Jane Fonda Opens Up About Doing a Sex Scene at 78