Q&A: Alden Ehrenreich, on Old Hollywood, Howard Hughes and Life After Playing the New Han Solo



 


Alden Ehrenreich is on the cusp of becoming an instant superstar.


In Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, Ehrenreich shines as a go-getter chauffeur working for Howard Hughes whose straitlaced life begins to unravel after he breaks the rules and falls for one of the many aspiring actresses (Lily Collins) on Hughes’ payroll. Between his dashing good looks and addictive charisma, Ehrenreich steals much of the film, leaving no doubt this kid is ready for his greatest challenge as an actor yet: playing a younger version of beloved Star Wars character Han Solo in a stand-alone movie due out in 2018.


But before that Ehrenreich stars in Warren Beatty’s first film as a director since 1998’s Bulworth; a film that, like this past February’s Hail, Caesar!, returns Ehrenreich to the world of old Hollywood. When Fandango sat down with the rising star earlier this month at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, it seemed fitting. Here we were – tucked into the sort of back-corner table where countless movie stars had no doubt carved out their own stories; their own personal hopes and dreams.


For Ehrenreich, those dreams don’t just include becoming the next Star Wars sensation. Like his Rules Don’t Apply director (and star), Ehrenreich also has his eyes on the director’s chair, revealing to us that he’s already hard at work on his first film.


Check out our chat below.


 


 


Fandango: It’s cool that you book-ended the year with these movies about old Hollywood, first with Hail, Caesar! and now Rules Don’t Apply. Are you a big fan of that period in time?


Alden Ehrenreich: Yeah, for sure. What’s almost strange to me is how much of a fan of old Hollywood I was growing up. When I was 16 I remember looking at these books – these black-and-white photobooks of the stars of that era. My parents would always show me these old Hollywood films all the time, and it kind of formulated what my ideas were about acting and about movie stardom, and about film – all from watching these movies. So having had now in a row these two opportunities to be a part of that world is pretty remarkable.


Fandango: What’s the biggest difference between the way Warren Beatty directs and the way the Coen brothers direct?


Ehrenreich: It’s very different. Warren I met with for five years before we started making it, and I spent so much time at his house. There was lot of rehearsal. The Coens don’t really rehearse much. The writing with the Coens is kind of set; it’s perfect. And Warren is more in the business of discovering the scene as you do it. Somewhat more improvisational, and more involved on a micro level with your work and what you’re doing. He has a very specific way with each moment; he will direct each line, whereas with the Coens there’s a longer leash.



Pictured: Alden Ehrenreich in a scene from Hail, Caesar


Fandango: What process are you more of a fan of?


Ehrenreich: It’s tough to say because the process fits the movie that you’re doing. It’s impossible to compare them in that way because you hope that they find a process that works best for the material that they’re doing. The Coens make a very specific type of movie where they use almost everything that they shoot. It’s really detailed, so you’re way of working in a lot different. Warren is more experimental; he kind of finds the movie as he’s making it.


Fandango: What’s the craziest Howard Hughes story that you heard from Warren Beatty, even if it’s not in the movie? What really blew your mind?


Ehrenreich: The thing that blows my mind is the cat memo, which I read a little bit of in the movie. If you really read the cat memo, you can’t believe it’s real. It is the funniest craziest thing – I think I say it in the film, it’s like 72 pages long, and it’s him explaining to his staff the importance of finding this cat. And he is deadly serious. And he goes into all these details like if this was an animal from the zoo, they’d have the top people looking for it. And it’s crazy to think that he would write something like this absurdist masterpiece; it’s like a Marx brothers thing. And he did it in earnest.



Fandango: It has to be a little hard, too, to find that balance between what’s funny about Howard Hughes and what’s tragic about Howard Hughes. This film does a good job of making it more about the people who surround Hughes, and how his eccentricities impact them.


Ehrenreich: Yeah, exactly, and that was something Warren was really intent on – was finding the humor in Howard Hughes. He thought Hughes was really a funny character, and he wanted to tell that version of the Hughes story. I also think in a sense this story and Hughes’ character that Warren has created is really something Warren has done in Bonnie & Clyde and Bugsy, and Reds also. He takes a historical figure and he really uses that as a vessel or a way of talking about these more personal themes to him. Those films are very personal to him. Probably Reds and Rules Don’t Apply in a real way because he directed them. So I think here he’s using the Hughes figure as a mouthpiece in a sense.


Fandango: In a way, Beatty kind of Howard Hughes’d this movie, too. It’s something that’s been with him for decades.


Ehrenreich: Yeah, you can say he Howard Hughes’d it, but you can also say he Warren Beatty’d it. That’s how he works, and that’s what’s really admirable about him. He will do things – and in a sense I think that’s what the title is about – but he will do things exactly the way he wants them to be done, and sometimes very much in the face of the convention of the time. It’s pretty great.



Fandango: When you spend five years working on something, and you’re at Warren Beatty’s house all the time. Do you start to feel like you’re part of his family? Are you at the dinner table with them every night? What’s that process like?


Ehrenreich: It’s very much like that, yeah. I did feel like I was part of the family, and it really became a kind of education for me. It was a real mentorship and apprenticeship for me with him, and I learned so much that will carry with me forever.


Fandango: Did you research these guys, like the one you play? These sort of shadowy men who acted on behalf of him? How many did he have?


Ehrenreich: A lot! Most of them were Mormon, and so they were called the Mormon Mafia around [Los Angeles]. The real story is somewhat darker. They kind of ended up maybe taking his money and things like that.



Fandango: Do you have an actor’s bucket list, and if so what’s on it?


Ehrenreich: I feel like some of the best roles that I’ve gotten to play, I could’ve never pre-conceived. These things happen to you in an unexpected fashion, so it’s hard to pre-imagine what that would be because some of the best opportunities I’ve had I could’ve never anticipated or expected. Like this, or like Star Wars. To me the bucket list is about working with directors. Steven Spielberg started my career, and so he’s someone I’d really like to work with. To me, it’s about directors. I think a movie lives and dies by the vision of its director.


Fandango: And you’ve already worked with some great ones.


Ehrenreich: Oh, I’ve been ridiculously lucky to work for I’d say five of the greatest directors of all time… and a lot of other great people too. But I’ve worked with certain people where if you look at a top 20 list of all time directors, they’re going to be on it. To me, that’s unbelievable. Having that right out of the gate with Francis Ford Coppola directing my first film…


Fandango: That’s gotta be intense. Coppola must be an intense guy to work for.


Ehrenreich: I think probably in the ‘70s he was. At this point he felt like a grandpa – he was like this excited kid. I think that’s what he’s really like, and his intensity is exciting. He is intense, but his intensity is rooted in this passion that is almost unparalleled, for film, for the medium and for experimentation.



Pictured: Alden Ehrenreich in a scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro


Fandango: You look at Coppola and George Lucas, and it’s so interesting how these guys, who are experimental filmmakers at their core, are also behind a couple of the biggest franchises in history: The Godfather and Star Wars movies.


Ehrenreich: Yeah that’s what Francis always says about Lucas is that he’s always been an experimental filmmaker. When you learn about the history of Star Wars and think about the first movie – with no one knowing anything and this world coming out of nowhere – it is really an experimental triumph. It is experimental. And I think with Coppola’s love of experimentation, he’s not chasing box office numbers – he’s just in love with this medium in a very purist kind of way. Getting the chance to have him lay the foundation for my thinking in doing my first movie with him has really stayed with me forever. He’s my hero.


Fandango: Do you want to direct? 


Ehrenreich: Yes, no question. I’m editing a short film right now that I directed. And Warren has been very inspiring on that basis, because he’s one of those actors turned directors. And he’s always been very encouraging of me to do that. So I would love to do that – you would have more control that way, and I think creatively you get to do more.


Fandango: What’s your short about?


Ehrenreich: It’s about a couple in the hours before they meet to decide whether they’re going to stay together or not, and them reliving their whole relationship in the hours before this kind of final decision.



Fandango: So then what happens after you play Han Solo. Can you go back to making these smaller movies? Are you now a franchise-driven guy?


Ehrenreich: My feeling is that I don’t really care about the genre or the size of the movie. I care about the quality of the writing and the quality of the characters. I just really want to continue to play those roles where I really have something to do, and mainly above all work with people that I can learn from – directors I think are so great.


Fandango: Like your Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller?


Ehrenreich: Exactly. I think Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who are doing the Han Solo movie, are fantastic. And I think their take on it is spectacular. They’re so smart and clued into this world and their take on it in such an intelligent way. And then Lawrence and Jon Kasdan are writing the script as well, so that’s pretty exciting.


Rules Don’t Apply hits theaters on November 23.


 


Alden Ehrenreich Talks Han Solo



Here’s more of our chat with Alden Ehrenreich, in which we talk more about his role as the new Han Solo in Star Wars


Here’s what happen the first time Ehrenreich stepped onboard the Millennium Falcon


Ehrenreich says we’ll see a different side of Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars movie

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