The ever-employed Ned Beatty estimates he has made about 60 movies. Add in the television and theater productions he's got under his belt and his acting credits number in the hundreds. Not bad for an easygoing, 57-year-old actor who says matter-of-factly of his prolific career: "I've been so lucky."
Mr. Beatty's acting accomplishments will be feted in a career tribute tomorrow night at the Senator Theatre. He won't have to travel far for the festivities, considering he's living in Ruxton while shooting the Baltimore-based TV series, "Homicide."
Far from his Hollywood home, this temporary abode in the hilly woods north of Baltimore is also, metaphorically speaking, far removed from the city streets in "Homicide" that are policed by Mr. Beatty and his fellow detectives. He and his wife, Tinker, seem comfortably settled as Ruxtonites. Married twice before, Mr. Beatty has eight children. His two youngest, Thomas, 13, and Dorothy, 11, live here, too, attending Park School.
A genial host whose ruddy complexion and red shirt give him the same seasonal tinge as the falling leaves outside, Mr. Beatty readily confesses that he'd fallen asleep while reading a movie script and had only just now roused himself. Must be quite a
Judging from his screen credits, Mr. Beatty receives such film scripts like other people get the daily newspaper. His roles mostly have been supporting, but Mr. Beatty is content that he is a movie actor and not a movie star. "There's something about 'movie star' that makes me think of image restrictions," says an actor who can play anything but thin.
Never having received a career tribute like the one planned at the Senator Theatre as a benefit for the Baltimore Film Forum, Mr. Beatty is in for the royal treatment. There'll be a champagne reception, followed by the signing of his name in a wet cement sidewalk block in front of the theater, then film clips from his career and live remarks by "Homicide" cast members including Yaphet Kotto, Richard Belzer, Daniel Baldwin, Isabella Hoffman and Clark Johnson.
Mr. Beatty will have a question-and-answer session with the audience, and the evening culminates with a screening of "Hear My Song," the 1991 British film for which Mr. Beatty received a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.
During the Q&A, Mr. Beatty will surely be asked a lot of questions about "Homicide." He says he wasn't sure he wanted to do the series at first. "When I first heard the title I thought 'Oh, no, another television series about cops. Give me a break.' But when we finished that first show I was very excited about it. Barry [Levinson] was a real presence and directed that first show. For an actor, it was exciting.
"In film and television, the visual aspect tends to take the most prominent place in the production. All that matters is where you are in the [film] frame. As an actor, I'm trying to move through a scene quickly but often can't because of that visual aspect.
"With 'Homicide,' though, here we were in Baltimore, on location in the streets, using available light and cameras on the shoulder. The cameramen were like characters in the scene, and we could all just do the scenes. We were creating an event and they were capturing it any way they could. There's the sense of a documentary."
The way in which the series is shot is consistent with Mr. Beatty's philosophy of acting: "Your job as an actor is to tell a story by doing, acting it out, not orating. It's called acting because you're doing things." He says that aspect also figures ++ into Sun reporter David Simon's book on which the TV series is based, "because he went out and watched how the detectives did what they did. And we [actors] met the people on whom our characters are based."
There's no better proof of Mr. Beatty's acting-as-doing beliefs than the eclectic list of movies he has done starting in the 1970s, among them "Deliverance," "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean," "The Last American Hero," "Network," "All the President's Men," "1941" and "Superman II."
If his movies in later years often fell short of such great earlier movies as Robert Altman's "Nashville" and John Huston's "Wise Blood," Mr. Beatty feels the overall quality of American cinema degenerated in the 1980s. "I thought we were in a high arc in the '60s and '70s and then we took a big drop, which maybe we're coming out of now." Into the '90s, Mr. Beatty has been in such movies as "Chattahoochee" and "Prelude to a Kiss," the current "Radioland Murders," and the coming "Just Cause."
TV credits over the decades ranged from made-for-TV movie "Friendly Fire" to "The Dolly Parton Show," and from embodying J. Edgar Hoover in the miniseries "Bobby Kennedy and His Times" to joining a toga-clad cast in "The Last Days of Pompeii."
Although he was new to the movies when he made "Judge Roy Bean" in 1972, Mr. Beatty had been acting since he was a teen-ager in Kentucky. He later worked steadily at several regional theaters, including seven seasons at Arena Stage in Washington.
Nowhe says he wants to take it easier in the years ahead.
"A funny thing is happening in me. I'm having less and less of a desire to perform and I'm talking about retirement. It's not something actors talk about, because it's not an agreeable thing. But I got started acting at a tender age and have done it a long time. . . . I was acting a lot at the beginning of the regional theater movement, and I've worked all the time since then."
TRIBUTE TO NED BEATTY
Where: Senator theatre, 5904 York Road
L WHEN: Tomorrow, starting with a champagne reception at 7p.m.
Call: (410) 435-118 or (410) 889-1993