One often hears about Hollywood’s legendary on-set feuds, but three’s company when it comes to starlet Lily Collins, Stylemaker costume design honoree Albert Wolsky and Warren Beatty, who joined in a conversation about their new film “Rules Don’t Apply,” moderated by Variety’s Claudia Eller.
Beatty wrote, directed and stars in the film, which opens next Wednesday and focuses on the repressed sexual mores of the Fifties with a story centered around a fictional romance between an ingénue played by Collins and Hughes’ chauffeur, played by Alden Ehrenreich.
Variety: Did you find it all intimidating to work with these two Hollywood icons?
Lily Collins: I’ve been aware of Albert Wolsky’s work ever since I could know what fashion is and appreciate film. And Warren, my dad’s favorite film is “Heaven Can Wait” so I grew up in a household where Warren’s name was always around. I was intimidated at first, but I remember the first time I met Albert, he gave me a hug and all intimidation melted away. Any my first conversation with Warren was a little different. I was told to call him at home and when he picked up the phone he told me never to call him again. I was confused, then he said, “Just kidding! Hey, how are you?” So both of them right away dropped any sort of wall I might have had and became mentors.
Variety: You’ve always been a fashionista, so you must have had ideas about style. Did you share those ideas with Albert and Warren?
L.C.: My character ages in the film so I thought it was important for her not to become a caricature. I think it’s a testament to what Albert does when you do a period piece sometimes it can look too period or not enough and in this one, it almost takes a back seat to the story. Our conversations were just that, conversations. Obviously Warren’s lived with the characters for so long and Albert’s a genius so I just said, “Do your thing.” I loved it when he picked and prodded and said do a millimeter here or a centimeter there. It changes everything. I never knew how much proportion really mattered.
Variety: Albert, did you listen to her suggestions?
Albert Wolsky: Well, look at her. Of course. Nothing was ever done like, “Here, you wear this.” It was discussed, evolved, changed until we got it right.
Variety: Is it more fun to design for women than men?
A.W.: Well, there’s more variety for women. It depends on the project, but in general, it’s better. It’s easier.
Variety: Do the actors inform the costumes or the costumes inform the actors?
A.W.: With 18th century costumes and hoops and things, those form the body, but when you get into contemporary times, like the Fifties, you need the body, you need to get the proportions and even if it’s right, it doesn’t work unless it feels correct. But the important thing is also an actor has to feel comfortable. If they feel awkward, it’s not a good costume.
Variety: You and Warren collaborated 25 years ago on “Bugsy.” What took you so long to do another project together and how was it having a sense of familiarity and trust going into “Rules Don’t Apply?”
A.W.: That was a very important part of it. I’ve been waiting for 25 years.
Warren Beatty: It’s all Abert’s fault that [Annette Bening and I] have a 16 year old, a 19 year old and 22 year old and a 24 year old. But here’s the important thing about Albert: just do what he says. The word I use about Albert is faultless. He seems always to have made the right choice. I am so appreciative of it.
Variety: Can you talk a little bit about your process? Because you are a perfectionist yourself, Mr. Beatty.
W.B.: She means obsessive compulsive.
Variety: I did. When did your initial conversations begin?
W.B.: I’m not kidding when I say I leave this up to Albert and if there’s something I think is wrong, then I say, “What do you think?”
A.W.: He’s being very modest. The most important idea he had for his particular look was that he wouldn’t change. He would always be wearing the same thing, which I thought was a wonderful idea. If you see the whole movie there’s a jacket here, a hat there, but it’s basically pants, shirt, tie. Except at the very end, in Acapulco. Warren is very trusting.
W.B.: I’m very trusting of some people. You’re lucky if you can get Albert to do a movie.
Variety: What did you learn from working with these two?
W.B.: I believe in working with people who know more than I do. If I don’t like something I have no inhibition about telling them that. But I think in movies you have to work in a dialectic which enables everybody to feel comfortable in expressing some reservation or disagreement etc., and to be able to talk it out and come to the right answer.
Variety: Lily, how was it for you working with Mr. Beatty?
L.C.: It was incredible to work with a director who’s also acting in a scene with you. At first it was confusing because I didn’t know when he was actor or director but I quickly realized that it was all at the same time and he would direct in character sometimes, as Howard Hughes, so as to not take us out of the scene. If we weren’t speaking loud enough, he would ask questions to get us aggravated. He pushed buttons really well. I had never been entrusted to the point where a director is going to push me past every limit I thought I had to the point where sometimes that’s when magic happens – when you are exhausted or tired or hungry or it’s one in the morning and you are doing tens and tens of takes and you are like, “What else do I have to give” and then all of a sudden something comes to you and that take is magic. Warren knows what he wants and how he can get it and I think there’s a plan all along in a way. A lot of us felt like we put in situations by design that somewhat mirrored our characters months before we were ever on screen. Everything from just hanging out at his house playing board games or cooking to rehearsing, you start to create a relationship that is organic and then you get on screen and you don’t have to fake anything.
Variety: How did the costumes inform your character of Marla Mabrey:
L.C.: I think as an actor every time you wear different clothes it informs you. A huge thing about the Fifties was the undergarments — incredibly uncomfortable, but they created a shape that the clothes hung beautifully on. So even having a different body shape gave me a sense of who I was and how to use that to my advantage. In the movie we decided to keep using the classic white outfit that Marla arrived in Hollywood wearing, for pivotal scenes. Small choices like that informed the audience of what she stands for and her personality.
Variety: Warren, you are famous for not letting your cast get early drafts of your scripts. How did your cast deal with that?
W.B. When I look at Lily and Alden, I see future directors. And I say, “Do it before you are ready,” because nobody’s ever ready. It’s kind of a crazy process, if it’s good. Kate Hepburn once said to me, “A happy movie is a lousy movie.” What I would say in relation to Lily, if you are directing yourself, at least there’s one actor who sort of knows what the director has in mind.