In Hollywood, there’s something we might term the Annette Bening Curse. It usually applies to great actresses who are taken for granted, women who are so consistently good, over a long period of time, that when it comes to awards, specifically the Academy Awards, they are sometimes passed over. Consider Glenn Close (six-time nominee, six-time loser) or more recently Amy Adams (five-time nominee who this year was passed over for two great performances, including one in Arrival, which was otherwise nominated for eight Oscars), and of course there’s Bening herself. Bening first caught audiences attention as a fast-talking—a Bening signature—femme fatale in Stephen Frears’ The Grifters, and she hasn’t stopped knocking them out of the ballpark since. Yet, she’s been passed over for the Best Actress prize four times—including the year she gave a definitive performance in American Beauty, the year’s Best Picture winner—and this year, which was finally supposed to be her year, she was passed over for a nomination for her widely praised performance as a sensitive mother—another specialty of hers—in Mike Mills‘ 20th Century Women. Not that you’ll find her complaining. In an interview she conducted for W‘s Best Performances issue, where her husband Warren Beatty was also featured, Bening seems most interested in disappearing into challenging roles that test her mettle and emotions. In fact, despite the hubbub at the Oscars involving her husband, Bening says the most affecting film of the year was Moonlight, which after some confusion was named the year’s best film. “There’s nothing like that,” she says. “That is an absolute unique piece of work.”
Actress Annette Bening Has Been Loving the Loudspeaker Emoji Lately
How did the part come to you? I was called by my agent and told that a writer/director named Mike Mills was considering me for his next movie, would I please read the script, which was fun for me. I had seen Beginners, the film that he made the last time, and I had heard him interviewed on NPR. I’m an NPR junkie, and so I was in my car listening, before I had seen Beginners, and I thought, ‘Who is this man? He’s so delightful and interesting and insightful about that story,’ which was of course about his own dad coming out of the closet when he was in his 70s, after his mom had passed away. So that was my knowledge of Mike.
And you read it, and? I read it, and I just loved it so much because it takes place where I grew up. I mean, I didn’t grow up in Santa Barbara, but I grew up in San Diego, southern California. So this was a film that was set in a place that was very familiar to me, that felt like home. And it’s set in 1979, so I was 19, and I felt just very much connected to the whole story, and I felt I knew some of the people. I didn’t feel I knew exactly who Dorothea was, who I would eventually play, but there was something about it that brought back that time to me in a very poignant way, but in a way that I had never really thought about before.
Did you find it nerve-wracking the experience of playing someone that obviously was so close to the writer/director? Well, it just became a search. No, it was not nerve-wracking, I think in the way that you mean. I mean, I always have a certain amount of fear, and I’m always a little bit on edge but definitely Mike talks about how very, very personal it was, so that that became a fascinating part of it, and it became the really deeply personal part, which bonded me and Mike, and we now have this bond because of this search that we went on together.
One of the things that’s amazing to me about your performance in this movie is it almost feels like a documentary, in a funny way, because there’s a sense—you never, you never let the character be anything other than real, if you know what I mean? Thank you so much. That means so much to me, because that was what I was trying to do, and in terms of the acting part, and I knew that there was something about her that I didn’t want to quantify. There is something about her where you don’t know quite what she’s going to do, you don’t know quite what she’s going to say, and even when she says something, there are times you’re not quite sure what she means, and she doesn’t always do what you think she might do. That actually ends up being incredibly freeing, because in a way, of course, that’s how we are in life. We aren’t always one way, and we don’t always do the thing that is expected, but to be able to take that and weave it into a narrative that makes sense, that isn’t just unclear—that’s the, that’s the tricky part. So I mean, we worked pretty, we worked pretty carefully as we were going, trying to find that line. And it was also about someone who, in some ways, we knew had to remain somewhat unknowable.
So I wanna ask you some fun questions, and I feel you’ll have a good answer to all of these. I hear you’re a big emoji person. I am. Mike was very surprised that I was an emoji person. Why? I seem like an emoji person to me. No, I love emojis.
It’s like he was riveted by this. You send so many emojis. What’s your favorite emoji? Well, I like thumbs up. I’m also big on the heart. I like the Namaste. I also like the woman in the red dress. She appears quite often. Um, I like the one that’s like a blue spiral. I learned from my children, and they had to download it into my phone for me, and then it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is incredible. I love it.’ I’ve kind of stopped at this juncture, but then I get lazy, and I don’t go in, and every once in a while, like for instance, in the last few days, I’ve been using that loudspeaker one, the gray loudspeaker. I’ve discovered that one.
And what does that one mean to you? [Laughs] I’m making some noise about something. Sometimes it does have to be all emojis. You understand.
Well, moving from emojis, what movie makes you cry? Moonlight made me cry. I think it’s such a deeply, deeply beautiful, deeply felt movie, and that there’s nothing like that. That is an absolute unique piece of work, so that’s something that I’ve seen recently, that definitely does.
And what’s your favorite love scene in a movie? And by love scene, I don’t mean necessarily sex scene. Every scene you play, and when you really think about it, that that’s at stake somehow. Well, the one that popped into my head the quickest was the scene in [Beatty’s] Reds at the train station, when they can’t find each other, and then they turn and see each other and run towards each other. And that, that gets me every time.
And the final question, which I’m asking everyone: Where was your first kiss? My first kiss? I guess my first kiss—well, I kissed these two different guys, and I can’t remember which one was first. It was at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, and we had a youth group. I think it was Dave—I was probably in seventh grade, but he was much older. He was in ninth grade, and he was tall and cute and really nice, and I think that was the first kiss, although the memory that’s more poignant for me is when I was in, I think, the sixth grade, and my dad had a conference. He was in the insurance business, and they had a conference in Banff, Canada, which is this gorgeous ski resort at the base of the Canadian Rockies, but it was in the summer, and we drove a camper van from San Diego all the way to Canada as a family. And so when we got up there, we were in a campground—the kids. I have two brothers and a sister, and we were stuck in the camper, and my parents went to the hotel to go have the conference that was three or four days. So we were living in this camper, and there was a boy. I don’t even remember his name. I remember he had Converse on, like high-top black Converse, and I just had this crush, crush, crush, and we were getting into the camper van and I still, don’t know whether it happened or not, but I thought I felt him put his hand on my back. It’s funny, and I just remember that feeling. Isn’t that strange? But at that little moment, I guess it was my first moment of like I really had a crush, and just the idea that somebody would, you know, touch me on my back. And then I waited till the next year to kiss Dave. [Laughs]
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
Warren Beatty Hasn’t Read Any of the Books Written About Him “Because They’re Fiction!”
Warren Beatty Hasn’t Read Any of the Books Written About Him “Because They’re Fiction!”