Annette Bening & Naomie Harris

Variety, December 8, 2016 | Go to article overview

Annette Bening & Naomie Harris


Oscar nominee Annette Bening ("20th Century Women") and Naomie Harris ("Moonlight") talked in the Variety Studio about finding characters, visa issues and bringing humanity to a role.

Harris: Annette, what drew you to this incredible role in "20th Century Women"?

Bening: Mike Mills, who wrote it and directed it, contacted me, wanted me to read the script first before he met me, and I knew about his movie "Beginners," which I loved. I'd heard Mike interviewed so I didn't know him, but I thought, who's this guy? He's so unusual.

He gave the script to a number of people to read and said, 'OK, what do you think?'

So I read it and just loved it because it was actually where I grew up - I didn't grow up in Santa Barbara [where the movie was set], but in San Diego.

So I guess I had never read a film that was actually from where I was, and even though I was the young girl at that time, I was 19 in 1979 [the year the movie was set], but it just knocked me out and I loved it. The movie's very eccentric in the way that it's put together and the way he uses music and then there was this woman, Dorothea, who was this ... even as I first read her was very enigmatic to me, in a way that made me excited. The other people I felt like I actually knew a little bit better, but Dorothea was sort of enigmatic and so that got me really interested and then Mike and I met and had dinner and then a little while after that he asked me to do it, so I lucked out.

Harris: Did you manage to work out who this enigma is?

Bening: I think I'm still thinking about it, especially now that the movie has come out, because Mike and I talked about it endlessly and he showed me photographs of her, and this is his mom, but it's not his mom, the point of departure is his mom, but it was more his interest in trying to investigate his relationship with his mom.

But then in a way he's also writing about her investigating her own kid and wanting to raise her kid, but also just the gulf between two, a mother and a son that love each other, that want to connect, but that there's always this gulf, that's part of what he's writing about. That we're all trying to figure each other out and that there's a part of your parent maybe that you never really know.

That's certainly true with your children as they get older, they move away from you and they have these lives and so there's a part of them you don't know and it's fascinating.

Harris: And how do you start on your journey, I'm really interested in your process, how do you start with this character who's an enigma, and I don't know how I'm gonna find her, how does that journey begin for you?

Bening: I wanna hear about you!

Harris: No, I wanna hear about, this is a great opportunity for me to hear more about....

Bening: So "Moonlight." I'm one of those people that, I saw it and I just thought it was incredibly moving and incredibly difficult and painful and full of love and angst and so much, so how did you become a part of that?

Harris: Because Jeremy Kleiner, who's one of our producers, he asked me to be involved, he'd wanted to work with me on another project, and it didn't happen, and so when this project came about he asked me to do it.

He actually told me a bit of a producer's lie, because he said that [writer/director] Barry [Jenkins] had written the part with me in mind, which I discovered during production was in fact not true. He'd actually had to persuade Barry ... but I'm delighted either way that it happened because it's one of those parts that's taught me the most about myself, so it was an incredible journey to go on.

Bening: Did you have a chance to work with the other actors? Did you have a chance to work with the director [before the shoot]?

Harris: It was a crazy experience. I'm obviously British and I couldn't get my visa sorted, and so it ended up being work that was going be spread over three weeks, ended up being condensed into just three days because that's all I had. …

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