Warren Beatty on Ex-Loves Diane Keaton, Julie Christie and More: They Are ‘Brilliant, Beautiful Women’

Warren Beatty on Ex-Loves Diane Keaton, Julie Christie and More: They Are ‘Brilliant, Beautiful Women’

From Diane Keaton, Julie Christie and Natalie Wood to his current wife of 24 years, Annette Bening, the women Warren Beatty dated throughout his life were some of the most stunning in Hollywood — but they were so much more than just great beauties to him.

“What happens is fame gives you access so you’re lucky enough to be exposed to these very admirable women,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “But these well-known women who were not just physically beautiful, but great people and talented and intelligent people.”

Beatty, 79, remains close with his exes, especially Keaton, who he connected with around the time of their 1981 film Reds. “I love her,” he says. “She’s a combination of integrity and humor and intelligence and fairness and, did I say beauty? A brilliant comedic sense.”

Of his relationship with Christie, Beatty says, “It was very respectful.” “When she and her husband come to Los Angeles, they stay in our guest house,” he says. “We’re very close and she’s a remarkable person.”

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The actor — who returns to the big screen Nov. 23 in Rules Don’t Apply, his first movie as a director in 18 years — also dated Madonna, Leslie Caron and Joan Collins. “She was so beautiful and very underestimated as a comedienne,” he says of Collins. “Now she’s Dame Joan Collins. I’m happy to say she’s no longer underestimated.”

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The father of four resents the fact that he was perceived as a “playboy” during his earlier years because none of his relationships before Bening ended in marriage. “I don’t understand this playboy, bachelor image of me. I had something like seven years with Julie. I had five years with Diane. I had two years with Natalie. I had three years with Leslie,” he says. “But the fact that I was a pretty boy, it was like, ‘Ohhhhh.'”

“I don’t think that any of those very impressive, brilliant and beautiful women were particularly interested in marriage,” he continues. “Look at their loves when I was not a part of them. I like to think that I remain a friend.”