It's been 10 years since Martin Scorsese's “The Aviator,” if you can believe it. The film was one of two dueling Howard Hughes biopics at the time (the other coming from Christopher Nolan), a passion project developed by star Leonardo DiCaprio for director Michael Mann. Mann ended up with biopic fatigue after “The Insider” and “Ali,” so he settled into a producer position and DiCaprio convinced his then-newfound colleague Martin Scorsese to direct and the rest was history.
But speaking of history, the Howard Hughes story has had its own in Hollywood. During a Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute in February, Scorsese remarked that he had always shied away from it, going on to note that a number of filmmakers had wanted to do it over the years. One of those, of course, was Warren Beatty, and Beatty's version has been slowly clicking into place over the last couple of years. Today there's further development as one of the stars of Scorsese's film, Alec Baldwin, has been tapped for a role.
News of Beatty's fifth film has been flying around for a couple of years now. It looks like the first time HitFix touched on it was back in 2011 when the project was finally revived, sparking Drew McWeeny to wax on with delight at the notion of Beatty saddling back up to the director's chair after all this time. (He has only directed four features in his career and the last one was “Bulworth” 16 years ago.)
But lately, the still-untitled project has really been finding its stride. Financing was secured back in February from a who's who of Tinseltown players; Relativity Media investor Ron Burkle, financier Steve Bing, former WB co-chief Terry Semel, producer Arnon Milchan and filmmaker Brett Ratner (via his new RatPac shingle) have all pitched in for what will reportedly be a $26.7 million production. Beatty will star as Hughes and he's already cast Alden Ehrenreich as Hughes' assistant and Lily Collins as the assistant's love interest (with the story revolving around the two). Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Felicity Jones (as Hughes' love interest) and Beatty's wife Annette Bening are also on board, and Baldwin joins as Hughes' lawyer, Bob Mayhew.
You may recall Baldwin had a significant role in “The Aviator” as Hughes' airline foe, Pan Am founder Juan Trippe. It was a great role for the actor, one he seemed to relish on screen. It was Alan Alda, though, who landed an Oscar nomination alongside DiCaprio as crooked Senator Senator Ralph Owen Brewster.
I adore “The Aviator” with all my heart, but it seemed to have a hard time finding support in the Oscar season 10 years ago. It was like the whole town was desperate for something more heartfelt to come along, and finally, it did, in the form of the schmaltzy “Million Dollar Baby.” That Clint Eastwood film went on to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. But it's “The Aviator” that stands the test of time as a work of art, a project that allowed Scorsese to really indulge his fetishistic love of old Hollywood and present a captivating, psychological dissection of Hughes.
I bring all of that up because “The Aviator” was a very specific take on the man. Hughes' is a gargantuan story with plenty of room for multiple interpretations, so for one, I really hope Christopher Nolan someday finds his way back to his ideas for the material; he was reportedly still interested just a couple of years ago. And I'm very happy to see Beatty dust off his own project after all these years. (Steven Spielberg even danced with a potential interpretation once upon a time, so not that he needs anything else on his plate, but I'd be interested.)
And obviously, any depiction of the Hughes story with this sort of talent involved brings with it a certain amount of awards potential. It's in production now so I imagine we'll see it in theaters some time next year. Will we be talking about it during the 2015-2016 Oscar race? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm sure plenty of us will be welcoming the filmmaker behind “Heaven Can Wait,” “Reds,” “Dick Tracy” and “Bulworth” back into the fray. It's been far too long.