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Annette Bening Hopes for First Oscar Win after Storied Career
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Thursday, March 7, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Annette Bening was jazzed as she read the script about Diana Nyad, who at 64 became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

Then it hit her: I'm going to have to learn to swim if I take on this role. Apparently, the script was compelling enough that Bening was prompted to fine tune her rudimentary swimming skills by watching You Tube videos.

And for the next year the 65-year-old actor swam almost daily preparing for her role.

"I loved the script because I thought it was hysterical," she said, referring to a scene where Nyad chased a could-care-less clerk around a bathing suit store because she couldn't answer Nyad's question regarding what the suit was made of. Then I thought: I don't want to be seen in a bathing suit. I wanted to just say no but I couldn't.

As I was preparing, there were tears in the pool. I thought: This is so hard. How can I do this? Then I thought: No one is doing any of my script. I'm doing it all. I watched 'National Velvet' the other day and you could tell when Elizabeth Taylor wasn't riding that horse."

Bening, who was the recipient of the 2024 Sun Valley Film Festival's Vision Award given to those who have helped further the filmmaking industry, kept a packed house at the festival's Coffee Talk at The Argyros in stitches as she looked back over an illustrious career that has included playing Virginia Hill in "Bugsy," her debut in "The Grifters," for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and "American Beauty," for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.

Bening said a movie that made a huge impression on her in her youth was "The Sound of Music."

"Julie Andrews spinning on the side of the mountain...I played the album over and over and when I had to sing a solo for a choral recital I chose 'I Have Confidence in Me.' The night before I told my mother I was so nervous and she asked me what song I'd be singing. I said, 'I Have Confidence in Me,' then I burst into tears. And that sums me up!"

Bening grew up in San Diego, graduating from a large suburban high school with a thousand students in each class. Graduating early with the help of extra credits, she had a great experience at a community college where classes cost just a dollar at the time.

The college's small theater program required students to do every job from lighting to props and costumes. And when she went off to find a real job she stayed in a friend's expansive closet in New York City while she spent several months looking for work, eventually landing roles in "Miami Vice" and the made-for-TV movie "The Hunt for Claude Dallas."

Finally, she got her big break playing Dan Akroyd's wife in "the Great Outdoors." "I remember we had to get up at 4:30 every morning to drive to the other side of the lake for filming, and I thought it was wonderful. I do not like waking up that early anymore."

Bening was nominated for the first of five Oscars for her role in the 1990 film "The Grifters."

"The female nominees in my category got to talking and we decided that whoever won should buy dinner for the rest of us. Whoopi Goldberg won for her role in 'Ghost' and the next week we all got a flower arrangement with an invitation to meet at a very nice restaurant. And, while we're there," someone walks up with a tray of chocolate Oscars for each of us and a gardenia for each of us. Now, how classy is that?"

Being at the Oscars, Bening added, was like being in a giant fishbowl with a certain amount of nerves.

"But--wow!" you get to be in this room oftentimes with people you've idolized."

Receiving an Oscar nomination also meant being invited to speak on such shows as the Johnny Carson show, Bening said. "I'm not a real public person so I was hesitant when asked to go on the Johnny Carson show. Being a public person and an actor are not the same at all."

When it came to "Nyad," for which she has received her fifth Ocar nomination, Bening said she had to learn to breathe on her left side.

"Thankfully, I had no bad habits to break because I had never been a swimmer. I don't have Diana's stroke--she has a real beautiful stroke. Mine is okay--it passes."

Bening said she got to know Nyad very well.

"She's a character--talk about energetic! She's a world-class athlete. She doesn't have a normal personality--she's a person who swam for 56 hours--that's insane!"

The movie put Bening opposite of Jodie Foster as Nyad's real-life friend and coach Bonnie Stoll.

"I didn't know Jodie. I thought if she would do it that would be just beyond what I could imagine. She said, yes, she wanted to meet me. I have a huge Newfoundland named Scout that's 12-years old and 135 pounds and she sheds and slobbers, and I love my dog. Thankfully, she's a dog person so she loved my dog as well. She was willing to be part of the movie even though she was aware that shooting water takes three times as long. She's 61 and been in the business 57 years. She's an incredible person."

Annette Bening told moderator George Prentice that she was going to be Catwoman in "Batman," then she got pregnant. "Now I have a 32-year-old son."

When she was asked to portray Mar-Vell in "Captain Marvel," she had to call all four of her kids to help her understand the script. "Of course, I wanted to do it."

But she had a gig in New York for a fundraiser she's involved with that helps care for actors, grips and others in the movie industry who need housing and other help that was the night before a big shoot. Happily, the crew flew her out to Fresno overnight and took her by car to the mountains for the shoot.

"It was so fun. I thought: Is this really my job?"

The OJ Simpson trial was going on while they were filming "The American President." Everyone was so caught up in it that Director Rob Reiner would go watch the trial during breaks in the set, then update everyone on what was happening.

"It was one of the shows my parents would watch," she recounted. "They did not watch all my movies--they're very conservative, they're Republican. But I said, 'It's okay, Dad.' "

Bening said she's very critical when it comes to watching herself.

"But I love to watch myself because you learn so much. I tell myself, 'I could do that better...' That's how you learn to do it."

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