Magazine article Screen International

Annette Bening: "Good Directors Don’t Say a Lot"

Magazine article Screen International

Annette Bening: "Good Directors Don’t Say a Lot"

Article excerpt

Annette Bening is one of the great actors of contemporary cinema. In a career spanning nearly 30 years, she has garnered four Academy Award nominations, two Golden Globe wins (The Kids Are All Right and Being Julia) and a Bafta for her role as a dissatisfied suburban wife in Sam Mendes's American Beauty.

Her most recent work in Mike Mills' 20th Century Women - as Dorothea, a single mother raising her adolescent son in Santa Barbara, California in 1979 - is one of her most deeply layered roles.

The film, which co-stars Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, is set in a place and time that was pivotal to Bening's own coming-of-age and she found in Mills' script all of the elements she looks for when determining whether or not to take the role.

"There was a very strong narrative," Bening explains.

"The way Mike tells the story is not conventional. I loved all of the characters and thought there was so much there. I also appreciated Mike's sense of history and of wanting to place that time in a historical context in his own way. I felt like I had never read or seen something like that and I liked it very much."

20th Century Women is financed and produced by Annapurna Pictures' Megan Ellison, along with Anne Carey of Archer Gray and Youree Henley. A24 will release it in the US on December 25; eOne will release in the UK in February.

Bening's connection to the material was immediate and personal.

"I was a young woman at that time in San Diego, that's where I grew up," she says.

"I had never read something that was so close in terms of atmosphere to where I had grown up. I felt like I knew the people. The events of this story aren't my life story but the milieu and the sensibility of the people made me feel like I could identify with them, somehow."

Over dinner with Mills, they discussed the character of Dorothea.

"I found her very enigmatic. I didn't quite know who she was, in a way that I like. I enjoy women with contradictions, and we all have them," she laughs. "So often in storytelling, women are two-dimensional stereotypes but Mike writes about women as fully fleshed, complicated human beings."

Mills has said he drew the character of Dorothea from aspects of his own mother, and discussions about her between Bening and Mills were instrumental in Dorothea's construction.

"The movie became a way to explore what he was interested in about his own relationship with his mom," says Bening.

"First of all I wanted to hear as much as I could about him and his questions about her. The things he was intrigued by and the things he was still questioning and sort of baffled by. I knew that, eventually, this woman that we were working to create would be a combination of his point-of-view of his mom, me listening to him and then my own sensibility. …

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