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October 4, 2006

Beatty Talks (and Talks) Reds at NYFF

"Diane Keaton is a plot. A very interesting plot."

Warren Beatty visited the New York Film Festival Tuesday for a 25th anniversary screening of the 1981 epic Reds, which he directed, co-wrote and starred in as the American journalist and Communist revolutionary John Reed. The film is notable for a litany of achievements: Sweeping global scope; interviews with surviving Communists and American radicals of the early 20th century; the subsequent Academy Awards given to Beatty (for directing), cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and supporting actress Maureen Stapleton; and generally just having an A-list cast and crew bringing its A-game for 195 minutes.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was notable for its own remarkable phenomenon: Beatty appeared at a press conference for the film -- the first American interview he had ever done for Reds --where, in 45 minutes, he answered three questions. It was a mind-blowing exhibition of superstar stalling, but The Reeler would not be deterred. We asked Beatty about how he settled on his dynamic cast, particularly Diane Keaton as the firebrand Louise Bryant, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill and Stapleton as Emma Goldman, to whom Film Society boss Richard Pena added the late writer Jerzy Kozinski, who made his acting debut as the doomed Soviet Grigory Zinoviev.

And off he went.

"There is, of course, a yarn connected with each person," Beatty said. "There's pretty much nobody in the movie who didn't fascinate me. Diane Keaton. You know, some people say that casting is character when you're making a movie. When you're close-up on a person, that's who they are. And then there's an old shibboleth that character is plot. I would say to you that Diane Keaton is a plot. And a very interesting plot -- a plot that can go in any direction at any moment. She's filled with comedic response and also a dark response. She can go light and dark, and I always felt that Diane and her subtleties and her sense of humor and her beauty and her intensity pretty much held the story together, because the story is a story that holds the politics and the dialectics of the thing together in the romance between a man and a woman."

"Jack is, um..." Beatty smiled. "There is no more intelligent actor than Jack, you know. Jack and I are friends, and when I have a casting decision, I like to talk to actors, you see, because actors know actors pretty much better than other people do. It's happened to me twice: When I went to cast Big Boy in Dick Tracy, I went to Pacino, who knows actors. I said, 'Al, who do I get?' He said, 'Let me think about it.' An hour and a half later he called me back--" Beatty's mobile phone rang in his back pocket. He fumbled for it. "That's probably Al." He silenced the phone and placed it on the dais. "He called me back in an hour and a half and he said, 'Are you serious?' I said, 'What do you mean, 'Was I serious?' He said, 'About asking me to do Dick Tracy?' I said, 'Are you kidding? Would you be interested?' He said, 'I am if you are.' And, you know, he was extremely good in Dick Tracy. But Jack. And I'm serious when I say I called Al. This was not some concealed manipulation. When I called Jack, I said, 'I have to find somebody who can...' And I won't say it because it was a little vulgar, but, 'take Diane Keaton away from me,' and I used the term, 'up one wall over the ceiling and down the other wall.' And he said, 'Well, there's only one person.' And I said, 'Who are you talking about?' And he said, 'Me, of course.' And I said, 'Are you serious?' And he said, 'Well, yeah.' And I like to tell story. I can get a bigger laugh in the living room, because it was said vulgarly, in a more vulgar vernacular.

"But Maureen, who I've always felt is one of our -- if not greatest -- one of our greatest actresses that we've ever had, God bless her. And Maureen was kind of claustrophobic -- well, not 'kind of.' She was claustrophobic." Beatty raised his right arm and pointed into the dark on the side of the hall. "If she was here at this press conference, she'd be sitting on that aisle, back there, at the end, so that she could get out. Particularly with me going on like this. She didn't want to go to England, and she didn't want to fly. She doesn't fly. And finally I went to her and I said, 'Maureen, if you don't want to do the movie, I'm going to have to kill you.' And she said, 'Well, I, I...' So we got her on a Polish freighter. And the Polish freighter, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, ran out of gas. And so Maureen was sitting in the middle of the Atlantic. Eventually she also won the Academy Award for the movie.

"Kozinski is an old friend -- was an old friend -- of mine, God bless him. Kozinski was as funny in a room as Jonathan Winters or Robin Williams. Kozinski could hold your interest. You could sit in a room with Kosinzki for four or five hours and nobody would ever say anything. He'd just keep telling you the same story he'd tell you 10 years ago, but it'd be different. It'd be in a different town, it'd be different people. And you'd say, 'OK, fine.' And so you think it's kooky, but... And of course he was a great, great writer and said that I was crazy to do this subject. He suffered under the Communist totalitarianism, and he didn’t want to do the movie. 'Can I recommended Szapaschewicz? (Ed. Note: This is a purely phonetic spelling; you try guessing the spelling of a Polish name on Google.) You said Poland,' or somebody around had mentioned Poland. And he said, 'Well, there is a very great actor. I don't know if you’ve heard of him. His name is Szapaschewicz. He is Polish.' And I thought, 'Well, let's go with Szapaschewicz.' And he wanted desperately to do the movie, and Moscow would not allow Poland to let him to do the movie. Then I went back to Kozinski. He said, 'Well, I, I... can't go anywhere near Russia.' And I said, 'What if we shoot you in Spain? That's far from Russia, and you'll always have Franco there to protect you.' Even though he was dead. So we shot Kozinski in Spain, and he was terrific.

"We shot this movie in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Taos, New Mexico, London, Manchester, Leeds, the South Coast of England, Stockholm, um--"

"Helsinki," someone in the row behind me muttered.

"Helsinki a lot," Beatty said. "Madrid, a bunch of other cities. We were all over the place, and... let's see. Who did I leave out? Sorvino's a wonderful actor. A whole group of people I'd known a long time. I think you have another movie to show."

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Comments (4)

I thought Beatty was a lover, not a talker.

I turned on the television one time and saw Beatty getting an award in London. Maybe some sort of lifetime achievement thing. His wife was in the audience. Anyway, he got up and.... stood there and rambled and I sat there, transfixed- they showed his wife and she looked like she was suffering for him in the audience. And then it dawned on me. I think he's got the beginnings of dementia. I'm not kidding or trying to be mean. I think his mental facilities are starting to go and it's pretty sad, because he's not that old. Poor Annette.

Unlike the suggestion of one of the posters, Beatty's manner of speaking hasn't changed since his early twenties, which would mean he has been suffering from oncoming dementia for 4 decades now!
His pattern of speaking only betrays his speech impediment, stuttering, as well as the fact that his high IQ causes his brain to work quicker and in many more directions than his halting speech can keep up with.....
People who suffer from oncoming dementia are not able to "ramble on" and "away" from a response to a question, only to return to it full circle in their final conclusion, which is exactly what Beatty's speech pattern has been like all his life. He loves to discuss and to debate, his speech impediment is just a hindrence in him coming across as articulate.

i was there. it was extremely painful, regardless of whether the cause was dementia or genius.

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» The Press Conference Theory from "Boredom at Its Boredest" by Michael Tully
I realize that we still have many more press conferences to sit through before the NYFF press screenings conclude (with such notables as Lynch, del Toro, and Ms. Coppola), but I mean it when I say that I have already... [Read More]

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