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.
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!