By the early 1970s, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie were two of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. Beatty made his film debut in 1961’s Splendor in the Grass and went on to produce and star in Arthur Penn’s New American Cinema landmark Bonnie and Clyde. During that same period, Christie was swiftly becoming a staple of British cinema, delivering memorable performances in films by John Schlesinger, Richard Lester, and Joseph Losey. In 1971, the two stars shared the screen for the first time, bringing their palpable chemistry to Robert Altman’s melancholy revisionist western McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Set in the Pacific Northwest mining town of Presbyterian Church at the dawn of the twentieth century, Altman’s film centers on the relationship between wayward gambler John McCabe (Beatty) and cockney brothel madam Constance Miller (Christie), who partner up to provide the town with a high-class whorehouse. Christie plays the role of the opium-dependent Mrs. Miller with a mix of vulnerability and ferocious strength, while Beatty brings a bumbling, endearing quality to his performance as McCabe. Later in the decade, the stars would reunite in Hal Ashby’s political satire Shampoo and Beatty’s adaptation of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait.
Our edition of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which arrives today on Blu-ray and DVD, includes a new behind-the-scenes documentary that features interviews with members of the film’s cast and crew. In the following excerpt, watch Joan Tewkesbury, who was Altman’s script supervisor on the film, and actor René Auberjonois discuss Beatty and Christie’s on-screen magnetism and their working methods on set.