The year is 1991. Victor’s Square, a funky diner in Hollywood. Annette Bening's loose, elegant blue dress is a bit out of place. But she is visibly proud of it. “I made it myself”, she says playfully striking a pose. Then she orders potato salad and a pickle. No coffee, thank you. The journalist makes a mental note about how “non-Hollywood” she is but – being male – has no clue what it means when a woman orders potato salad and a pickle for breakfast. Days after he filed the interview he finds out. Annette Bening is expecting. The father of her firstborn is Warren Beatty, her co-star in Bugsy.
Beatty had looked for an actress who could convincingly play Bugsy Siegel’s gangster moll Virginia Hill in his mafia movie Bugsy, a story about the beginnings of Las Vegas as an Eldorado for gangsters and gamblers. Beatty had seen Annette Bening as a charmingly resourceful con artist in Stephen Frears’ screen adaption of Jim Thompson’s novel The Grifters (1990). As it turned out, she became not only his favorite choice as his co-star in the movie (which led to her first Golden Globe nomination), a year later they were married. Three children followed.
“I always knew I wanted kids in my life”, she said in a press conference with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “They are wonderful. There is chaos in my house. I just love it. I always scheduled my acting around my family. I feel I’m a mother first, then a wife, then an actress”.
Annette Carol Bening was born on May 29, 1958, in Topeka, Kansas. The one artistic element of her childhood, which she shared with her three older siblings, was their mother’s singing as a soloist in church. But Annette was drawn to acting. After the family moved to California, she studied theater for two years at San Diego Mesa College followed by drama studies at the San Francisco State University where she was certified with a degree in drama.
She started professional acting with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Slowly she gained recognition as a formidable stage actress. In 1987 she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway play “Coastal Disturbances”.
“At that time, I didn’t picture myself as a movie actress.” It was 1988 when she finally got her first big-screen role (although a rather small one) in The Great Outdoors. “I am actually glad that I was already thirty years old when I got my first role in a film”, she said decades later in conversation with the HFPA. “It is hard for a young person to be thrown unequipped into the movie business which is very tough.”
Her start in the movie business is a testament to this statement. The Great Outdoors was a forgettable movie, her second film was born under an unfortunate star. Valmont, Milos Forman’s 1989 adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ play was overshadowed by the successful Dangerous Liaisons a year earlier. Bugsy was a disappointment at the box office. Her next movie with Warren Beatty, Love Affair (1994) was a flop.
But she endured. Her skills, honed on the stage, helped her to rebound in Richard III (1995). Her performance in The American President (1996) with Michael Douglas brought her a second Golden Globe nomination. Her portrayal of a high strung real estate agent in American Beauty (1999) got her the third of her nine Golden Globe nominations (The others: Being Julia (2005), Mrs. Harris (2007), Running With Scissors, (2007), The Kids Are All Right (2011), 20th Century Woman (2017).
And this year she has been nominated again. In The Report, she portraits Diane Weinstein, the powerful senator from California. Over the years, in over a dozen conversations with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, she opened up about her personal approach to a specific role and to acting in general: “Someone said, good acting is not putting a mask on. It is taking your mask off. With the camera so close, it can see down into your soul if you allow it. That is in a way terrifying. But on the other hand, it’s truly liberating.”
Annette Bening’s outstanding success in her film career has often been attributed to her emotional honesty. No glamour, gimmicks, scandals or diva attitudes. She and her husband could certainly be called Hollywood royalty. But the initial impression of Annette Bening almost 30 years ago is still valid: “non-Hollywood”.