“IT’S AN ERA OF AWAKENING”: ANNETTE BENING ON #METOO AND HOLLYWOOD’S NEXT GENERATION
The prolific actress discusses her newly released film, The Seagull, how she hones her craft, and working in the #metoo movement.
PHOTOGRAPY AND INTERVIEW
by TATIJANA SHOAN
by STACEY JONES
by CARISSA FERRERI
for TRACEY MATTINGLY AGENCY
for FORWARD ARTISTS
by SARAH CHUE
for EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS MANAGEMENT
Over the past year, Hollywood has seen an undeniable shift. Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the ensuing #MeToo movement—where several high-profile celebrities have highlighted their experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the industry—actors and actresses gained a new sense of power, where they can dictate the roles and environments they choose to work in more freely than ever before. The shift has also paved the way for artists to focus solely on the creativity of the work—something AS IF’s newest cover star, Annette Bening, has already mastered. The prolific actress, who has been nominated for countless awards, recently starred in a new film, The Seagull, and it delivers the kind of nuanced performance that Bening is known for. Below, read the full interview as she talks her new projects, the #MeToo movement, and what’s in store for Hollywood’s next generation.
AS IF: In your current film The Seagull (released Spring 2018), you star alongside Saoirse Ronan and Elizabeth Moss. Tell us about the film and experience?
Annette Bening: It’s an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s first play. Chekhov was a Russian doctor who became famous for writing short stories and plays. The Seagull was a big flop when it was first performed. Later, however, Chekhov was introduced to the founder and director of the Moscow Art Theatre, who is credited with the birth of modern acting. When it was performed there, it was a huge success. I first performed The Seagull in acting school, in the same part I now play in the film. I was floored when I heard producers wanted to turn it into a film.
Filmmaking is about creative collaboration, who else did you work with?
Incredible talent-people at the top of their field who know the rigors of low budget filmmaking, and especially a period film. Ann Roth who is one of the most legendary costume designers in film. She’s around 80 years old and called in every favor with every dressmaker in New York City. We had the great production designer Jane Musky.
Ralph Lauren silk jumpsuit | Audemars Piguet Millenary hand-wound watch in 18k white gold with diamond-set bezel and brilliant cut diamonds | Messika Joy stufs (left hand) My Twin 3 finger ring (right hand) Glam'Azone double pave ring.
You’re quoted as saying, “I love the luxury of the camera, I like the secrets the camera can tell.” Do tell…
There is a real mystery and magic to why a certain performer is fascinating to us: They have that thing where you can’t take your eyes off of them. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Gary Oldman in The Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill. He was so alive, captivating, and funny. I have always been a huge fan.
What do you consider when taking on a project?
I’ve learned over the years that if the writing doesn’t hold up, there’s nothing I can do. In movies, actors are there to serve the director and his or her vision. Loving and believing in the director is a very important for me. Sometimes, the decision to take on a project is how much you need a job. At this point in my career, I only do something if I want to do it, but there was a time I wasn’t able to be as selective.
When reading a script, you’ve said you ask yourself, “How can I say this with less words?”
I started in the theatre studying plays where you're taught to honor every word. The classics (plays) are so fabulous to study because they elevate the mind and heart, you’re working at your maximum intellectual capacity. When I moved into movies, it took me a while to understand that the screenplay is just the blue print, and there is magic in the camera. The camera can find and capture a character’s private moment.
“One of the real privileges of acting is trying to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone else in a subjective way. You are their ally, their advocate.”
What inspires you most in your work?
The great fun for me is in variety, delving into a new life and new world, and experiencing different parts of the world. I love the experience of living and working among a different group of people. The only control you have acting in film is your own experience of it. A lot of my most memorable working experiences are in films that very few people saw, or were flops! The deeply satisfying experiences happen in the creation, in the relationships you make, and the places you visit.
One film critic, after seeing 20th Century Women, wrote about the “Annette Bening curse” in reference to you not being nominated this year for an Academy Award.
It’s show business, ya know! Recognition has a lot to do with how much campaigning a film did, it’s unfortunately the new reality. And that’s okay. The most important thing is the work and keeping a sense of humor about the business. Being nominated and not being nominated both have their own pitfalls.
You’ve been a vocal supporter of the #metoo movement surrounding the Harvey Weinstein scandal, what does this mean for women in Hollywood?
It’s an era of awakening. Hopefully, it will allow people to speak up and speak out. I also think that we have to be very careful and remember that people do deserve due process, we have to be able to have a nuanced conversation-there's a difference between an unwanted come-on and an unwanted touch, and there's a difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Debbie Reynolds once said that every actress in Hollywood got there on their back. What is your experience of the infamous casting couch?
I think these men preyed on younger women who were just starting out. I didn’t get into the movie business until I was nearly 30, so one of the reasons I never had that problem was I was older. I knew how to handle myself in uncomfortable situations. It’s heartbreaking to learn of the young women and men who have been harassed and assaulted by the people they should have been able to trust. What I am hoping will come out of this is a platform of safety for the average working woman—for women who work in factories, restaurants, women with 9-to-5 jobs who need to support their families, and single mothers who can’t afford to lose their job. These women can’t just tell their bosses to “fuck off,” or go to HR just to have their complaints ignored. So, how do we give these women redress? That is the more interesting and fundamental question.
You once said, “I like being older, I don’t have the same pressures.” Is it tough being a woman in Hollywood, even with the shift?
It’s a lifelong search, and along the way, you gain more self-knowledge as a result of experience and age. As an actor, you get to explore different parts of yourself through the parts you play. I get to play women my own age and that’s a fascinating journey. One of the real privileges of acting is trying to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone else in a subjective way. You are their ally, their advocate. One of the fun things about getting older is maintaining that sense of wonder and curiosity, there’s a part of you that remains a little kid, always.
How has marriage and motherhood shaped your career?
I was in my early 30s when I had my first baby—and you may identify with this because you are a working mother—I had a total loss of interest in working! That scared me because I was so focused on work, and enjoyed it, but it ended up becoming a wonderful way to withdraw from show business, which perhaps was another reason I had so many kids! I’m not saying that it was all heaven, raising children is hard work. I was exhausted for 10 years, but it made me more economical in the work I did. Prior to kids, I would spend endless amounts of time doing research for roles. Once I became a mother, I became very selective in the stimuli I choose to feed myself with.
Alexandre Vauthier white organza shirt | De Beers Aura stud earrings | Annette’s own jeans
You and Warren (Beatty) have been married for 26 years, a rarity in Hollywood. What’s your secret?
I remember reading that the quality that initially attracts you to your partner is the thing that eventually breaks you up. We’re very different people, relationships are not about needing to be alike, but I think our success boils down to wanting the same things. My parents were married in 1950 and have been married for 67 years. They were married in 1950. I think part of a successful long relationship is in the choosing—choosing to be there, choosing to stay when things get bumpy. Warren and I have a certain fire, a certain friction and chemistry that hasn’t diminished. People change and grow, we get older, our kids get older, and we go through all these experiences together, so we just have to keep choosing one another, and keep a sense of humor.
You met and fell in love with Warren on the set. Would you ever want to work together again?
Absolutely. I wish he would act more because it would be great to see him on screen again. You love all the characters you play, they all sort of become your children—and if you had a favorite, you would never admit it, not even to yourself. But the one role I always refer back to is Bugsy because that’s where I met my husband.
Delpozo orange silk top with tulle sleeves, wide leg trousers, and coral leather embroidered sandal | Cartier 18k gold Love bracelet with diamond and ring | Audermars PiguetMillenary 18k pink gold case and bracelet with frosted gold opal dial
Do you have to like the characters you play?
It’s funny you asked that because I was just thinking about when I played Medea, who kills her own children—it’s a Greek Tragedy for those who don’t know. I was driving one of my kids to school and they were asking me about the play, and I had to give them the really good argument for why Medea had to kill her children!
What made her do it?
Her husband abandoned her for a younger woman. She reasons that killing their children will hurt him the most, which is horrific! It can be incredibly enjoyable to play a character who does awful things because you’re committing a sin that’s not your sin. Acting is like dreaming, it’s a free license to do things society and our conscience would not allow us to do. People with complications and contradictions are always the most interesting to play.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn of the young women and men who have been harassed and assaulted by the people they should have been able to trust.”
Any role you are dying to play?
I would like to do more plays in New York because I haven't been able to since I had my kids. The opportunity to play Irina in The Seagull for the screen was one of those roles, I have to say.
I am drawn to the work of your son Steven Ira Beatty who is such a poetic voice in the transgender community.
You think you’re teaching your children everything, and then a switch happens and you realize that they’re teaching you. I wanted babies so badly so I just kept having them! I had a really good cry every time I stopped nursing one of my children...the bond is so deep. These natural steps that rip your heart out happen all the time while you raise your children because you need to let go, and that’s the irony. Now my children are adults, and they’re all such unique, interesting, and amazing people living their own lives, having their own loves and relationships. I’m just so grateful to be close to them, to listen to what they have to say, and I try not to worry about them too much.
The Row dusty pink cashmere coat | Paige Novick 18k gold sans pavé curvy two part earrings | Vhernier Camuration 18k rose gold ring
What are your thoughts on how this young generation have really found their voice?
These young kids are speaking with such clarity and emotional conviction so their message cuts right to the heart, and most of the great social movements have been started that way. Maybe we have an opportunity now to really tackle gun legislation and gun control. My kids are incredibly politically savvy—they read, listen, are super engaged in their own opinions and the opinions of others—and we talk about politics with them nonstop. My parents are Episcopalian Republicans who grew up in the Midwest, so that allows me to see another side. I adore my parents and I have learned a lot from them. We don’t agree on many things, but that’s okay.
Is it true that casting of younger actors in films and TV shows is being decided by the number of social followers they have?
I don’t even know how to speak to that. I’m an optimist and feel that there will always be a need and a place for the craft of acting. Almost every creative field is now being woven into entrepreneurship and how to monetize yourself, and that idea is so foreign to how it was when I started. I find myself saying to young actors who are starting out that it’s okay to just want to act. We have incredible young talent like Greta Gerwig and Donald Glover, people that create their own work, write it, produce it, direct it. My husband was one of those people. It’s admirable and incredible, but not everybody has to do that. And you don’t have to have your own clothing line, or be the face of a campaign to be an actor.