OSCAR: Annette Bening Q&A

Few actresses have the chops to alternate between comedy and drama like 52-year-old Annette Bening. Hollywood really took notice of her in The Grifters which resulted in the first of what would be four career Oscar nominations including this year’s Best Actress nod for The Kids Are All Right, a dramedy contender for Best Picture. Deadline’s Awards columnist Pete Hammond interviewed her recently:

DEADLINE: Did you know right away you wanted to do The Kids Are All Right?
ANNETTE BENING: I responded immediately. I had met Lisa Cholodenko, the director, in our neighborhood, and I had also seen her work. So I had that context. I knew it was Julianne Moore playing the other part. There was some time before it got made, and they continued to work on the script. I ended up liking some of the stuff that was in the previous drafts. I thought it was very important that humor was really key. So there was a little bit of tweaking. But basically I just loved it.

DEADLINE: That delicate balance of drama and comedy is so hard to do right.
BENING: Yes, it is and the reason it isn’t done more is because it’s harder! It’s easier to be earnest and it’s harder to find a way to tell the truth and then also keep the sense of humor in a story. So when you can find something that walks that line, and still gets at the heart of the matter, the emotional content, which is the most important part in the end,  that was important to all of us. And we worked very hard at finding that.

DEADLINE: The part you play is a really complex character.

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BENING: I really loved her and I guess that’s one of the pleasures of acting for me: once I buy into a character, certainly once I start to play one, I don’t have to judge them. And I get to just empathize as deeply as possible with their perspective. I felt that there was an authentic nature to the way that she was drawn as a human being. I loved the fact that she had all the dimensions that she did. I find that very much more interesting to explore as an actor than someone who is all good. Anyone who is drawn in broad strokes either negatively or positively is generally not very interesting to play. Also, so much of that is the overall narrative in a story that you’re just riding the wave of as an actor. Where Nic ends up going is unexpected for some people. I felt there was an organic sense to it. The ending felt very right to me that we stayed together.

DEADLINE: And what about the edgier aspects, like kissing Julianne Moore?
BENING: Easy! We’ve been interviewed together about that and we both agree that we have had to kiss far less desirable people. I think about all the men that I have kissed professionally over the years and when someone says, ‘Do you want to kiss Julianne Moore?’ It’s like, ‘Yay!’

DEADLINE: There was some controversy in the gay and lesbian community over the fact that Julianne’s character cheats on you with a man instead of another woman.
BENING: I think people have a right to their point of view. If people respond that way, they respond that way. I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t think there are any rules about these things. And there’s an enormous amount of subtlety. You know Lisa, who is a lesbian, wrote it. I have had so many same sex couples, both men and women, just kind of grab my arm and say, ‘Oh my god, thanks, this just means a lot.’ So I think when a movie is good, people are going to have reactions. And some people are going to like things and some people aren’t going to like things, and that’s just the nature of it.

DEADLINE: This actually seems like a much more universal kind of story.
BENING: For me, it’s a classic family story. That’s how I saw it.  It happened to be that the both of them are women. But I know a lot of straight couples, too, talk to me about how they relate to them as a couple. The dynamics are similar and familiar to same sex couples and  to straight people. The story is really about things that most of us have to cope with who are in families, which of course most of us are doing.

DEADLINE: What draws you to actually commit to doing a role on screen now?
BENING: It’s always the writing. It always starts with that, because over the years I have just learned that is an incredible key. And the director, because movies are really the director’s field. I like that about movies. I like the relationships. I like working together, all of us trying to make things happen. That is really a joy. I know that if there is something in the writing that isn’t quite right in my own view, there’s nothing I can do as the actor to fix certain things. All I can do is play the moments and play the scenes the best I can, and then the director is the one who of course puts it all together. Also, usually I am looking for something different than what I have done. That tends to appeal to me.

DEADLINE: You had another really good movie out this year, Mother And Child.
BENING: I love that picture. Boy oh boy, do I get pulled aside by people on that one. People who have been through, in some fashion, the experience of adoption. That movie is so personal. It meant so much to all of us. I loved the job. It’s one of those that just changed my life in a way. There were people in my life that I knew who had gone through similar experiences, but I had never really delved into it, obviously to the degree that I did. I also loved the character, because she was such a difficult person. It was very intense and very challenging and very fulfilling as an actor.

DEADLINE: You are on the Academy’s Board of Governors and an officer in the organization. Do you think the Oscar is being diminished by all that comes before? There has been talk on your Board about moving the Oscar ceremony earlier to keep it fresh.
BENING: I don’t know. I’m not an expert on that. But I think the Academy is trying to preserve and protect the art of making movies, all the arts and sciences. So, that’s a good thing. And I love that mission that the Academy has. It’s more important than ever in the cultural climate. I think they have to keep doing the best they can at that.

DEADLINE: You became emotional accepting Best Actress at the rather contentious  New York Film Critics dinner this year and asked, ‘Can’t we all just get along’?  Is there too much meaness out there now in the critical community?
BENING: What I actually said was that we have a symbiotic relationship, we and the critics, and that’s how it has always been. Of course critics have a responsibility to put things in a cultural and sociological or political context. That is important. And we also have our job where we have to try to do the best we can with what we are doing. We get hurt when people don’t like us. And when people are approving of what we do, we are thrilled! So it is kind of that simple. But I think also the critics are just as sensitive as the people who make movies. That’s just human nature. We are sensitive about what people say about us, and I don’t think you have to be an actor or a film director or an artist of any kind to have that kind of sensitivity. But I think people who write criticism are just as sensitive about what people say about them.

DEADLINE: At the end of your Golden Globes acceptance speech, you gave a big shout-out to the 1962 winner of  Most Promising Newcomer – your husband.
BENING: Obviously over the years we have talked about when he first went to the Golden Globes, but that morning actually we were sitting there kind of rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and I asked him, ‘What was the first year you went to the Golden Globes?’ and he said, ‘1962, as most promising newcomer’. And it just struck me as being so adorable and funny so I made a little mental note. And thought, well if I get the chance to say that, I should fucking well say it! So, you know, I had that kind of tucked in the back of my mind, if I was going to be lucky enough. Yeah, that was fun!

  1. It seems that the awards season this year has been good for revealing a warm, funny, smart and committed Annette Bening. In the roundtables she’s participated in I’ve gotten a much closer sense of her than ever before, and while her character in “The Kids are Alright” has her customized characteristics, I don’t recall her ever being as easy to relate to and unmannered. Whether she wins the gold man or not, I think this performance and round of appearances has been great for her audience relationship, and will likely serve her extremely well for the next phase of her career.

    1. It’s unfortunate that her awesome performance is trapped in such a non-starter of a movie.

      If Denzel Washington were a white actor he’d still be a great actor.

      If _____ actor wasn’t gay, he’d still be a great actor.

      If KIDS were about a straight couple, it wouldn’t have been made.

      Low-rent script that is nominated for an Academy Award? Come on.

      The actors elevated the material.

  2. I’ve loved her ever since she came out with the classic line in Postcards from the Edge:

    “You look like someone who can take care of herself. Buy some condoms. Don’t feel bad. He probably really likes you. If you can just… enjoy yourself with him like he’s enjoying himself with you… That’s what I do. I’m in it for the ‘endolphin’ rush.”

    Anyone who can pull off talking about ENDOLPHIN’S so blithely …. sigh. Makes me realize that most of the current generation of actresses are so pitifully lacking in acting chops.

  3. Thank you for the interview and Bening is certainly deserving of the Oscar for such a memorable performance. Kids would not nearly be as good if she was not in it. Cheers!

  4. Pete, in one of your articles on what you’re hearing from random Academy voters–you mention Annette’s name several times, though most seem to believe that Portman will win. Now you’re interviewing her. Will you be interviewing Natalie as well? Are you giving Annette a little push here? While I find Bening interesting and intelligent, there was nothing distinguishing for me in her performance in this film–a sitcom-like performance with a bit more depth perhaps. Mother and child was a lot more compelling. Natalie’s performance was in another league.

  5. I really appreciated the Bening interview. I didn’t know she was so closely intertwined with the Academy. I wonder how meaningful an Oscar win would be for her. (Stupid question, I’m sure, but as an industry outsider, I really wonder. So many superb actors never even get nominated. Then there are those such as Bening who have been nominated again and again. I just wonder if a win matters to her in the end, and anymore.)

    I sort of bristle at the notion that “The Kids..” and Bening’s performance are sitcomish. I saw the film more than once, and also saw “Black Swan.” Portman’s performance was awesome. But I thought Bening’s was nuanced and “real.” I really wonder if strong feelings for one actor’s performance over another’s don’t boil down to tastes and preferences. I prefer films such as “The Kids…” to one like “Black Swan.” I didn’t dislike it. I just prefer something more accessible, for want of a better word. Because of that, I tend to lean towards wanting Annette Bening to walk away with the prize at the Oscars ceremony.

  6. Hopefully NO STRINGS ATTACHED will do for Natalie Portman what NORBERT did for Eddie Murphy and she’ll lose out on the Oscar and it’ll instead go to someone who deserves it instead of, as has always been the case with Annette Bening when she’s nominated, the award going to some young tart whose only talent is a high ass. More actresses should look to Bening because she’s about the only one who’s consistently brilliant unlike Portman who can be decent in one movie and wretched in the next five.

  7. I have not always been a fan of her work, but with this movie, she won me over big time.

    I’m rooting for you, Ms. Bening!

  8. Natalie will win, but she’s clearly not and never will be as good an actress as Annette Bening. Her thin, reedy voice and penchant for glamour posturing undermine her ability to ever really knock it out of the park. She’ll never be everywoman. Hell, she’ll never really be woman. Always girl/woman. Like Winona before her.

    1. YES! Her voice! That’s it. Thin & reedy says it all. The only time she sounds different is when she does an accent.

  9. I hope Bening wins. It’ll be nice to see an Oscar go to a pure acting performance of an original character.

  10. She should have won for the criminally underrated “Being Miss Julia” a few years ago!

    She also beat Natalie to the post at last night’s London Film Critics Circle Awards. Hooray!

  11. Why does it have to be a whisper in the background to point out: Natalie Portman is the powerhouse in this year’s race, sans powerful insider actor husband, sans being on the Board of Governors?

    Natalie Portman is beyond the New Natalie Wood — she redefines a certain mood in acting that reflects the times far more capably than coat-tailing subject matter, however laudable the subject may be.

    Portman is a powerhouse since her first turns as a child actor; from Vendetta to Boleyn, she has given the Academy many reasons to notice her… and she will continue to mine her emotions and further her craft. Please forgive this one, but Bening is not in Portman’s arena as far as acting, folks. Nat is now.

    1. I also agree with this 110%! I don’t understand why this isn’t more apparent. I have been a fan of both ladies for years. However, I was blown away by Portman’s performance. I do believe that her performance will go down in history as one of the all time greats. I enjoyed Bening’s performance….but it wasn’t anything special for me. I do hope this isn’t a year that the academy gives out lifetime achievement oscars.

  12. Ditto. In addition, why did Bening need to mention Warren at the Golden Globes? She said in an interview something to the effect that it just occurred to her at breakfast that morning that Beatty had been cited as a newcomer to notice or whatever in the 1960s, but it seemed very calculated to me. Guess why shouldn’t she use Warren? It just bugs me that she exudes this “purity” while at the same time using her Hollywood legend husband?

    1. What do you mean? Like, I would never say she’d use her husband. I mean, it’s natural for her to thank her husband in the end, right?

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