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Warren Beatty introduces his new movie, 'Rules Don't Apply'

Warren Beatty introduces his new movie, 'Rules Don't Apply'
Warren Beatty plays Howard Hughes in his new movie, "Rules Don't Apply." (Francois Duhamel / 20th Century Fox)

Warren Beatty introduced his new movie, "Rules Don't Apply," at a special screening Thursday on the 20th Century Fox lot — which isn't surprising given that the 79-year-old Hollywood legend has introduced every screening of the movie for the last couple of weeks, flying back to New York when necessary.

"Maybe it's my OCD," Beatty told me at a cocktail reception following the film, a Hollywood love story in which he has a supporting role as eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. "It's like that line — 'a poem is never finished, only abandoned.' I really feel that. I have a hard time letting go."

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Meaning that even if a screening is just for one person — as was the case last week when "Rules" was shown on the Fox lot to a Times editor — Beatty has shown up, introduced himself and his movie (he wants to make it very clear beforehand, as he did last night, that this is not a Howard Hughes biopic) and passed the time of day before the lights go down and the film begins.

That level of personal involvement is unheard of, but, as Beatty told me, he wants to make sure the movie — which he directed, produced and wrote — doesn't get lost.

"Every movie now it seems costs either $1 [million] or $2 million or $200 million," Beatty said. He then launched into a twisty story about a recent, first-ever visit to McDonald's — he was late for his daughter's choir performance, hungry and needed a quick, drive-through bite — as a metaphor for the current studio emphasis on movie franchises.

"That's what I thought when I finished my burger and fries," Beatty said. "Sequels. That's McDonald's. You know what you're going to get." (For the record: He's an Apple Pan guy.)

There is a strict review embargo in place for this movie until it opens the AFI Fest on Nov. 10. (It arrives in theaters Nov. 23.) But I can say it's about a young woman (Lily Collins), a devout Baptist virgin, and a boy (Alden Ehrenreich) who's a Methodist from Fresno and how their lives are changed by their association with unpredictable billionaire Hughes.

Beatty grew up in a conservative household in Virginia, raised by Southern Baptist parents and believed, as a teenager, that if he had sex with a girl he'd have to marry her. That mindset dictates the actions of the young lovers in "Rules," as does the put-away-lustful-thoughts maxim "Don't charge the battery if you don't intend to use the lights." (Beatty's high school football coach told him that when he caught him looking at the cheerleaders.)

So … not a Howard Hughes biopic, but maybe a coming-of-age story straight out of Beatty's life?

The evening's guests included a good many people who worked on the film, like five-time Oscar nominee cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and costume designer Albert Wolsky, a two-time Oscar winner. Collins and Ehrenreich were also in the crowd, sampling banana nut ice cream (you'll get it when you see the movie), as were Richard Benjamin, Peter Fonda, James Woods and Illeana Douglas.

Coincidentally, Douglas' Turner Classic Movies show, "Trailblazing Women," was airing "Shampoo" and an interview with Lee Grant right at the same time that "Rules Don't Apply" screened.

"Really?" Beatty said, delighted by the coincidence. And then the line of well-wishers pressed closer and we said goodbye … with nearly another month to pass before I can officially call his movie charming.

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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