How Warren Beatty’s Town & Country became one of Hollywood's most notorious flops
Warren Beatty’s 2001 farce, in which he plays a super-rich architect juggling different women, is one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history losing over $90m in total for New Line Cinema. It’s also the last time the Hollywood icon appeared on screen ahead of his return in 2017’s ‘Rules Don’t Apply’.
So how did it happen?
Star v director
Back in the late-1990s, director Peter Chelsom was about to break into the Hollywood big time. He’d impressed with the excellent low-budget British indie ‘Hear My Song’ and had wrangled then-A-lister Sharon Stone on ‘The Mighty’.
But what Chelsom (who directed just-released YA sci-fi ‘The Space Between Us’) underestimated was what it’s like to work with Warren Beatty.
“Peter Chelsom was a great guy, really understands cinema, but Warren was off on a track,” said the film’s cinematographer, William Fraker, who called ‘Town & Country’ a “complete disaster”. “I don’t know what was going on with him on that picture, there were major discussions and problems. They just didn’t get along at all.”
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Stories emerged from set that the pair had even got into a physical fight.
For his part Chelsom has always kept quiet about his experience, telling the Telegraph, “Whatever the rumours, he’s an incredible talent.” The director has admitted he was lucky to escape with his career intact.
A ridiculous budget
Hardly a CGI-laden blockbuster, ‘Town & Country’ was supposed to cost £35million and ended up with a budget of over £72m.
A lot of that initial money would go to the high-octane cast, including about £8m for Beatty, but even some of the stars would notice how badly the budget was being spent.
“I saw a lot of money being wasted while we were filming, which I did not understand and didn’t really even know how it was possible,” Andie MacDowell explained later to the AV Club.
She specifically mentioned a scene added during reshoots featuring Charlton Heston. “I just remember the producer saying, ‘Well, I’m not really sure it’s going to be in the movie,’ and I just couldn’t believe it, because that scene had to have cost a fortune!” she said.
The main reason for the massive overspend was the length of production. Principal photography began in June 1998 and wouldn’t officially finish until the same month two years later. After the first round of filming, new pages were written by Buck Henry, but it took a year to gather the cast again. Then further scenes were shot in April 2000, including Henry himself as an entirely new character and a whole new climax.
The release date was changed an incredible 12 times before being released to a critical and commercial thud in 2001.
The movie would go on to lose an estimated £92m at the box office.
Gerard Depardieu was injured in a motorbike accident and eventually had to be replaced by Garry Shandling.
The movie started production without a full shooting script – not something entirely unheard-of in Hollywood, but the endless drafts from expensive screenwriters hired subsequently failed to satisfy the filmmakers.
Actress Jenna Elfman suffered an allergic reaction to a hair product she was using and her hair started to fall out.
And if that wasn’t enough, thieves stole 10 reels of films which amounted to two full days of shooting (let’s just say they probably wish they’d nicked a better film).
The enigma that is Warren Beatty
In many ways, Beatty is a cinematic genius. He pioneered a grittier way of Hollywood storytelling with ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, helped swing the balance of power back towards filmmakers from studios and often used that power to make challenging, intellectual movies like ‘Reds’.
He is also famously – and infuriatingly – indecisive. He demanded endless extra takes meaning that the A-list cast, which included former paramours Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton, had to leave for other scheduled projects, necessitating subsequent reshoots.
It also didn’t help that Beatty’s star – especially as a legendary lothario – was on the wane by this point. Aged 64, the underrated 1998 political satire ‘Bulworth’ had been well-received, apart from the on-screen romantic relationship between the star and Halle Berry, then just 32.
When ‘Town & Country’ was screened for test audiences, they balked at Beatty chasing endless beautiful women. Wrote the Daily Express, “[Test audiences] couldn’t stand Beatty because he was after only one thing from women – sex – and he didn’t seem like the sort of guy who would be able to get much.”
Chelsom has argued he didn’t think he’d still have a Hollywood career if the John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale romcom ‘Serendipity’ hadn’t already been in the can by the time ‘Town & Country’ came out.
He’s worked ever since, on movies like 2009’s ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie’ and this month’s YA sci-fi ‘The Space Between Us’.
Garry Shandling, such a genius on TV in ‘The Larry Sanders Show’, never really had a big-screen career. The film he left the first round of shooting on ‘Town & Country’ to make – ‘What Planet Are You From?’ – alongside Beatty’s wife Annette Bening – was a flop.
Although he flirted with playing Bill in Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ and with roles in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘Frost/Nixon’, Beatty didn’t make another film until 2016’s ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, coming to the UK sometime this year.
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