At the age of 59, Annette Bening is one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Not only is she wildly talented, beautiful, and captivating on screen, but she’s also smart and uses her platform for good causes.
The four-time Academy Award nominee’s latest project is the movie Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which she stars in alongside Jamie Bell. The film focuses on the love story about Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame and her younger lover Peter Turner.
Now To Love spoke exclusively with Annette about the remarkable role.
The conversation quickly steered toward the impact Annette has made in Hollywood, her incredible romance with husband, Warren Beatty (and his infamous Best Picture mishap at the 2017 Oscars), and her very honest thoughts on the #MeToo movement.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is breathtaking. It reminded us of My Week With Marilyn meets An Education. How exciting was it for you to star in this project?
“Thank you so much! I just love those two films, so I appreciate that you’ve put our movie with them. It really was a dream to work on. The book, which [the film is] based on, is one of my favorites. I think it is a very tasteful, well written, and [a] smart book. The author, Peter Turner, is an actor who happened to have met Gloria Grahame and fall in love with her. It’s a very unlikely story, and I’m so glad we got to make it. I feel very lucky.”
Was it exciting to portray a real person and someone as thrilling as Gloria Grahame?
“It was exciting! That’s such a good way of putting it. It was also somewhat frustrating. When you play someone, especially if it is a real person, you want to find out as much as you can about them, but Gloria was very private. She did have four children, she was married four times, but I didn’t want to impose on anyone or impose on their privacy.”
The real Gloria vs. Annette as Gloria
“I did get to talk to a woman who knew Gloria when she was younger [and] another actress named Terry Moore who’s still around. She was very generous and she spoke to me. In fact, she was up for the Academy Award that Gloria won [in 1952 for Best Supporting Actress for the film The Bad and the Beautiful.] She was there for Gloria’s famous brief acceptance speech when she just said “thank tou” and then walked off in the most delightful way.”
“Anyway, Gloria was private, but I was so full of curiosity about her. She was so complicated, yet there was this enigma and draw to her. She really embraced life. She loved her craft, she loved her children… But she was wild!”
Seeing her brought to life, Gloria seemed to be the essence of old Hollywood. I think many people watching the film wouldn’t know she’s a real person until the very end. You really did become her — when you watch footage of Gloria and compare it, the likeness is uncanny. You’re both celebrated actresses, so was there something about playing Gloria that really struck a chord with you?
“There always is something, no matter who I’m playing. It’s one of the joys of acting. You find something that makes you really understand and relate in an intuitive way with someone. Then, there are the parts that you’re a little unfamiliar with. To try and find and to dig deep… to study another human being, seeing the world through their eyes — you become an advocate for your character. You don’t need to be objective.”
“When something is written well, there are a lot of contradictions because true life people are full of contradictions. She had that and it was a joy to share that. And working with Jamie Bell, he was just so great. He was so generous and so present. He really made me feel comfortable and helped me enormously. The entire cast and crew were so generous and just so committed to the project.”
The chemistry between you and Jamie was something else. Was it natural for the two of you to step into the roles of such complicated lovers?
“It was incredible! I realized as we were doing it, you know you’re always in a state of uncertainty when you’re actually shooting and it’s only in retrospect that you can see. When you’re in the moment it’s like you’re fumbling around… in a good way. You want to be doing that, and you want to be in a state of uncertainty. You want something to happen that you don’t know will happen and you want to have almost a planned spontaneity.”
“Do you know what I’m saying? When you’re in the midst of this, it reminds me of holding your breath. I mean Jamie’s such a pro, he’s been acting since Billy Elliot. And we did this together — with a sense of fun and camaraderie.”
You’ve really done it all — film, stage, and now television is making a big comeback with shows like Big Little Lies— would you ever think about doing something like that?
“Yes, absolutely! There are so many fantastic stories… and I’ve been reading lots of stuff.”
You’ve played some groundbreaking roles, but what’s one character that will always been ingrained into you?
“You know, it’s funny I think that about most of my roles. It’s like when you’ve met a certain person and they inhabit your world. It becomes a jewel that you carry inside you. Whenever I portray someone, I go on a journey — I’m glad I went, [but] I’m glad I’m home now! You learn to move on… You just have to.”
It’s the Oscars on Monday — will you and Warren be going?
“No! Just watching.”
He handled the Moonlight mishap with such grace. You’ve both spoken about it, but is he over it? Can he now look back it and laugh?
“Oh yeah, very much! He handled such a difficult situation with such grace, can you imagine? Oh my gosh! He laughs about it. It’s one of those things.”
You and Warren have been married 26 years — is it easy to separate your life from the spotlight of Hollywood?
“You work and then you need to step away! For me, having Warren and our family is just so important. It’s always been this wonderful balance, and honestly, I don’t know how I would have managed it for years if I was just by myself bouncing from project to project. I’m so thankful. I’ve had lots of time off with my kids and then I got to bring them along to some things. I’m very grateful for real life that I have and the fact it has nothing to do with my profession.”
There’s a huge shift in Hollywood with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement. We’re seeing the positive ripple from Hollywood all the way to Australia. You’re actually there, witnessing many of your peers speaking up. What has that been like?
“I think it has been so positive and it is reverberating around the world. For me, the most important part is that it reverberates into the lives of women — working women — from all over the place, who don’t have the ability to just quit their jobs. They can’t just tell someone off because it’s their livelihood, they’re supporting their families. Those are the women that really need the support and structure around them where they have somewhere to go.”
“I’m hoping that’s the measure of this whole movement that started in Hollywood. Women all around the world in every country, anyone who is out there in the workplace or even students, knows what it’s like to be in an uncomfortable situation — or worse. I think it’s really important that we have a conversation about this, which is nuanced.”
“There is a difference between an unwanted approach via a man and harassment and assault. These are all gradations and there are gray areas between them, and it’s very important we are able to distinguish between these very different experiences. People who are accused also [should] have the ability to stand up for themselves and that due process is given to people — that’s also important.
There’s a culture beginning to develop where women can speak out… and men too, quite frankly! Men are also victims of this. It’s great that people are now speaking out. It’s a huge shift and I hope that does continue.”
Remember the best movies from the good old days? Here are our favorites:
This post was written by Chloe Lal. For more, check out our sister site Now to Love.