It may be a director's dream to have Annette Bening portraying a fictional version of his own mother. That is what writer/director Mike Mills told the HFPA about 20th Century Women, for which Ms. Bening received her eighth Golden Globe nomination as best actress (she has won the award twice: for Being Julia in 2005 and for The Kids Are All Right in 2011). "Annette has a magical ability to put so much into just one line," says Mills. "When in front of the camera, Annette gives everything, and you can see every single thought and emotion on her beautiful face. What a gift she is to a director, to all of us!"
Mrs. Bening, 58, says that on the other hand her character in the film, Dorothea, the inscrutable single matriarch of an unconventional family, reminds her of her own mother, plus a little bit about herself. "I have a maternal instinct," she says. "I always wanted to be a mom. That came before acting – that came before I knew anything. I was the youngest of four and I remember wanting my mom to have another baby, and she said, 'No, I'm not going to have any more', so I don't know if that was the connection."
Bening has German, English, Irish and Welsh ancestry. Her surname is German. She has been married to Warren Beatty since 1992, after falling in love on the set of Bugsy (1991): the two have four children. Born in Topeka, Kansas, Bening graduated from San Francisco State University and began her acting career with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, eventually moving to New York where she acted on the stage (including a Tony-award nomination in 1987 for her work in the Broadway play Coastal Disturbances), and got her first film roles, in a few TV movies. She became known internationally as Madam de Merteuil in Milos Forman's Valmont (1989), followed by Stephen Frears' thriller The Grifters (1990), for which she received her first Academy Award (she went on to receive three more Oscar nominations).
She also made a splash with her portrayal of a neurotic mother, wife and wannabe real estate agent in the seminal American Beauty (1999). Considered one the greatest American actresses of the 20th century, Bening is making a grand entrance in the 21st century: she has been working non stop lately, notably in The Search, Danny Collins, and her own husband's 2016 Rules Don't Apply. "I love acting and I love working," Mrs. Bening says. "I'm 58, almost 60 that is, and I still consider myself at the beginning of something, constantly. My mother, who is now 87, is still a singer, as she always was. Never miss a beat. Passions run deeply in our vein. And energy. I inherited that from that side of my family, and I think I poured that side in the role of Dorothea in 20th Century Women. Age is a relative thing; it's just a number. It all comes down to passion and energy and love. Love for your kids, your man, your work."
How would she characterize a 21st century woman? We ask her. "Women that live right now?" She quips with a knowing smile. "I think there's a lot of pressure on women right now, especially young women, more than never as before. They have to be everything: they have to be educated and have their jobs and have children and look amazing: that is a lot!”