Annette Bening, 52, first splashed onto the movie scene as the flirty, sexy,
and slightly dangerous Myra Langtry in The Grifters. She received the
first of three Oscar nominations for that performance. But rather than
continuing in that strain and cashing in on her sex appeal, Bening
quickly became an actress of class and style; she appeared absolutely
regal as a gangster's girlfriend in Bugsy (1991), and landed herself the
untamable Warren Beatty as a husband in the process. After that, she
lent her grace to such films as Richard III (1995), The American
President (1995), and Open Range (2003), went a little nuts in American
Beauty (1999) and chewed the scenery with panache in Being Julia (2004).
Not bad for a girl from Topeka, Kansas.
Ms. Bening -- who, of course, is a graduate of SFSU and a veteran of
San Francisco's ACT -- recently visited San Francisco to talk about her
new movie The Kids Are All Right. In it, Bening stars with Julianne Moore as Nic and Jules, a couple of lesbian moms
raising two teenagers. It's the final summer before the daughter (Mia
Wasikowska) goes to college and her younger brother (Josh Hutcherson)
wants to meet their sperm donor dad, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), which winds up
creating more drama than anyone could have anticipated. I participated in a roundtable
discussion. The questions below were asked by me.
Jeffrey M. Anderson: Nic and Jules have this incredible
chemistry, so much so that the "lesbian" factor doesn't even matter.
Within five minutes you're just watching a family drama. You came onto
this late, much later than Julianne did. I'm curious... do you feel that
you're really clicking with her during the moment? Can you feel the
Annette Bening: That's a very good question. I don't know. One
is in an uncertain position, when you're working. Now we're sitting here
and the movie's done, and there's a certain fait accompli about it. It
is what it is. When you're shooting, there's always a sense of
exploration. One take is always different than another take, because of
the moments that are leading up to it, including the real-life moments
that are happening on the set, the pressures of making sound, and are
there problems, and do we have enough light, and does someone need to
leave? Those tiny little things influence the moment that you're in. And
you're always wondering what might happen in the next moment. So there
isn't a sense of, "OK! Nailed that!" And yet, at the same time,
sometimes you do have a sense that maybe something is working. It's
always a bit tentative. I wish it was more concrete. But it never is. It
just never is. Because of Lisa establishing a kind of comfort on the
set, there was a smaller transition from when everyone's kinda talking
to "quiet" and "rolling." You want as little transition as possible from
that into the camera rolling. And I think she does that.
Jeffrey M. Anderson: When you get a script this strong, do you
have suggestions, or do you throw caution to the wind?
Annette Bening: It sort of depends. Lisa said last night that
I had a lot of suggestions, but I don't remember. I need to sit down
with her and say, "what were they?" Some of them I remember. But she
remembered that I had a lot, so I think that I do, but more than I used
to. When I started, I thought, "what do I know?" And I suppose that was
true to a degree. I remember very vividly reading a script and thinking,
"that's kind of boring and that doesn't work." And I might mention it,
but very modestly, and just sort of be ignored. And then I would see the
movie and I would think: "that's the part of the movie that doesn't
work. Maybe I actually saw something that wasn't right?" So now I'm
almost 52, so now when I see something, I say it! Seeing a problem isn't
that hard. Solving it is a different thing.
Jeffrey M. Anderson: Do you watch your films?
Annette Bening: I do. And sometimes I'm very critical, and
sometimes I'm not. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I'm very moved
(laughs). I love it, and other times I have my vanity: "Did I have to
look like that?" I've always been very critical of myself, and you have
to watch it, because it can paralyze you. There's only so much you can
do. Other people are also seeing things you don't see, and you see
things other people don't see, and you're remembering things. You have
associations about the day and the shooting, and the moment in your life
that have nothing to do with the movie that nobody else would ever see.
But after time goes by, what I've noticed because now I've been doing
movies long enough, I'm forgetting! And I can't remember, that movie I
made in France... was that the day I was exhausted, or was that the day
we traveled from yada to yada, and shot in the middle of the night? Now
it's been so long that don't remember and I can see them more like other
people see them.
May 26, 2010